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1LIMPSES OF AN 

IRISH FELON'S 

PRISON LIFE 

By Thomas Clarke 



THIS ISSUE REPRESENTS 

THE FINAL BINDING OF THE ORIGINAL BOOK, 
FIRST PUBLISHED IN 1922 




Distributed by : 
THE NATIONAL PUBLICATIONS COMMITTEE 

56 Grand Parade, Cork 



'"TOM CLARKJ , the 

* Annals of Irisn irii* .y, not 

so much by what he achieved, 

but, because by his indomitable 

endurance he survived the agony 

of 15 years of cruel torture in 

British prisons, whilst many of 

his fellow prisoners were driven 

hopelessly insane. 

On his release, his friends 
exhorted him to relax, with the 
injunction that he had already 
done enough for Ireland. His 
retort was spontaneous " No 
Irishman ever did enough for 
Ireland." 

It was his intention to re-write 
"GLIMPSES," but fate and the 
British firing squad decreed other- 
wise. Few Irishmen, if any, 
suffered so much for so long, 
and returned to the fight for Irish 
freedom, with such an abounding 
fervour and unconquerable spirit. 
He was the Fenian Phoenix, that 
rekindled the flame of revolution 
in the holocaust of 1916. 



JO/6 



: 



m 



GLIMPSES OF AN IRISH 
FELON'S PRISON LIFE 




GLIMPSES OF AN 
IRISH FELON'S 
PRISON LIFE 

BY THOMAS J. CLARKE 



WITH AN INTRODUCTION 
BY P. S. O'HEGARTY 




CONTENTS 



INTRODUCTION x 

CHAP 

I. EARLY PRISON THOUGHTS I 

II. THE INHUMAN TREATMENT OF DOCTOR 

GALLAGHER IO 

III. A SKIRMISH WITH INSPECTOR LITTLECHILD 22 

IV. THE CHATHAM " IRISH FELON " 33 
V. THROUGH TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD 42 

VI. LEARNING A TRADE 50 

VII. BOBBY BURNS OF CHATHAM 56 
VIII. THE GOLDEN RULE OF LIFE FOR A LONG- 

SENTENCE PRISONER 63 

IX. PASSING THE TIME IN PRISON 68 

X. BILLY JACKSON 74 

XI. A MEDLEY 83 

XII. THE SILENCE TORTURE 90 

XIII. MINOR MEMORIES 96 



INTRODUCTION 

" But it seemed safe to classify as dangerous those toko 
were credibly reported to be in more than occasional or chance 
communication with some one or more of the small group of 
persons known in Dublin to be dangerously seditious, e.g., 
T. J. Clarke" Evidence of Mr. A. H. Norway at the 
Hardinge Commission. 

THOMAS J. CLARKE was born in Hurst 
Castle, Isle of Wight, on the nth March, 
1857, of Irish parents, his father, who was 
a soldier, being from Galway and his mother 
from Tipperary. Shortly after Tom's birth 
the family went to South Africa, and when 
he was about ten years old returned and 
settled down in Dungannon, of which town 
he always regarded himself as a native. He 
left Ireland for America in 1881, and returned 
in 1883 on a special mission from the Clan- 
na-Gael, as a result of which he was arrested 
and, in May 1883, sentenced to penal servi- 
tude for life, serving actually 15 \ years, and 
being released in September 1898. He went 
to America again in 1899, and returned in 
1907 and settled in Dublin, where he went 
into business as tobacconist and newsagent. 
He was the first Signatory to the Proclama- 
tion of the Irish Republic, and was shot in 
Kilmainham Jail on the 3rd May, 1916, aged 
59 years. 



INTRODUCTION 

I first met Tom Clarke in, I think, 1909, 
and in the years of close association that 
followed came to know him well and to love 
him well. To all the young men of the 
Separatist movement of that time he was a 
help and an inspiration. And he was surely 
the exception in his own generation, the one 
shining example. It was a time of struggle 
in the Separatist movement, a time when the 
least little thing might have tilted the balance 
the wrong way, when, as it happened, Tom 
Clarke tilted it the right way. There comes 
in every movement a time when there is a 
clash between the younger generation and the 
older generation, and that clash was brewing 
in the I. R. B. just about that time. There 
was, on the one hand, the older generation 
which had got into a groove, which had no 
policy for the movement save the policy of 
keeping the spirit alive, which in effect 
throttled all attempt at a forward policy and 
believed that nothing in the way of action 
was possible. And there was, on the other 
hand, the younger generation, which believed 
in a forward movement, wanted a forward 
movement, and believed in its own capacity 
to run such a movement. After a long 
period of splits, a period during which the 
young men as a whole had avoided it, the 
I. R. B. had at last succeeded in closing up its 
ranks, and in those ranks were plenty of the 
young men, men with vision and purpose, 
men who wanted to do something. And 

x 



INTRODUCTION 

naturally and inevitably they pushed to the 
front. They were regarded by the older 
men with some alarm, as people who by 
some rashness, by some disregard of the 
policy of giving no signs of life, would 
imperil the whole movement. And it was 
inevitable that there should be a struggle. 
For a good while it was a silent, an almost 
imperceptible struggle, but it came to a head 
in the autumn of 1912, and the young men 
won, won only just in time. Tom Clarke 
had stood with us from the first, and I can 
still remember the thrill of pleased surprise 
with which I saw him, after I first met him, 
stand for every proposal which the other 
men of his generation frowned at and would 
down. One thing in particular which all of 
us had at heart, and a thing which eventually 
had a profound influence in the right direc- 
tion on the whole development of thought in 
Ireland, the starting of Irish Freedom, was 
due wholly to Tom. We young men had a 
paper as our first thought, but before we 
thought the time opportune to propose it the 
proposal came from Tom Clarke, and we 
carried it. The result was Irish Freedom, 
which gave to the Separatist movement in 
Ireland unity and philosophy, and which had 
an influence in making the Ireland of to-day 
which has not yet been recognised. We all 
worked for it without stint and without 
cessation, and Tom Clarke as keenly and as 
effectively as the youngest amongst us. 

xi 



The full story of the Insurrection of 1916 
will some day be given publicity : but apart 
from the actual details of the events leading 
up to it, it is time that the main event, the 
really proximate cause of it, should be stated 
clearly and unequivocably. And that was 
that the I. R. B., working since 1911 under 
a Supreme Council who were united and 
who knew where they were going, had pre- 
pared for an insurrection, had prepared the 
mind of the organisation, and through that 
a great deal of Ireland, so as to make it fit 
to seize the opportunity when it did come. 
And when everybody else in Ireland had 
gone rotten in 1914, the I. R. B., and as 
much of the Irish Volunteers as it influenced, 
stood fast by its principles and prepared, a 
handful against an Empire, for insurrection. 
The first meeting of the Supreme Council of 
the I. R. B. which was held after the out- 
break of war between England and Germany, 
a meeting held in the middle of August 1914, 
decided to organise an insurrection in Ireland 
before the war ended. And it did it. It 
stuck to its policy and its purpose firmly, 
and the insurrection of Easter Week was the 
result. It was neither a Sinn Fein Insur- 
rection nor a Socialist-Labour insurrection, 
as it has been variously labelled, but a 
Fenian Insurrection, in direct descent from 
Stephens, Mitchel, and Wolfe Tone. 

In that policy and decision, Tom Clarke 
was foremost. He stood to all of us as a 

xii 



INTRODUCTION 

strength and an inspiration, and emphatically 
as a comrade. His life and his unconquer- 
able will and his work and his energy made 
him easily the first of us and the best of us. 
And amid all the jokes and easiness that 
marked our intercourse, we all knew that we 
were in the presence of one who stood as the 
embodiment of Fenianism, an impregnable 
rock. More than any other one man he was 
responsible for the insurrection, for he was 
the mainstay of the group which from 1911 
had worked and planned for an insurrection, 
whose faith and position were so finely set 
out in 1916 by Padraig Pearse in his four 
undying pamphlets. 

All that has been forgotten by the younger 
generation, if it ever knew it, but it was not 
forgotten by those who worked with Tom. 
And their recognition of that, their unani- 
mous and public recognition, was the calling 
upon him to be the first to sign the procla- 
mation of 1916. When everything was ready 
for signature the other men insisted that he 
should have the honour of signing first. He 
demurred at first, saying that he did not 
think that he was worthy of that honour, 
but they insisted, they said that he had been 
their inspiration and their pilot, and that none 
of them would sign except after him, and 
then he signed. He was, I think, genuinely 
surprised and touched to find that his com- 
rades thought so highly of himself and his 
work, for he himself was modest and retiring 

xiii 



INTRODUCTION 

by nature, and never by any chance thought 
of himself. But the honour they did him 
was his, clearly and unmistakably, by right 
of his life and his work and his example. 

This book will, perhaps, be appreciated 
most by those who knew Tom. His per- 
sonality is all through it like a framework, 
and the writing, terse, crisp, and always to 
the point, is exactly as he used to speak. 
One cannot read it without being reminded 
at every turn of the lean figure with worn 
frame but unconquerable soul that used to 
stand for hours behind a shop counter, selling 
papers and tobacco to all and sundry and 
exchanging jokes with his more intimate 
friends. A man who has been through 
fifteen years of prison ought, I suppose, to be 
broken-spirited and inert ; but Tom Clarke 
was as supple as steel and as spontaneous in 
laughter as a boy. The casual visitor would 
never imagine that he had been fifteen years 
in prison. 

But, in addition to its immediate interest 
as an intimate revelation of the personality 
of the first signatory to the Republican 
Proclamation, it will have a permanent place 
also in prison literature. Literature is per- 
haps the last word which he himself would 
have thought of applying to it : he never 
looked upon himself as an intellectual, and 
would have characterised the articles as a 
mere jotting down of interesting facts. But 
they are more than that. Those who come 

xiv 



to the book expecting a recital of prison 
cruelties will be disappointed as will those 
who expect bitterness, querulousness, thirst for 
revenge, or any other of the less admirable 
qualities which imprisonment of the drastic 
nature portrayed is apt to induce. It would 
be futile to suppose that fifteen years of such 
a life as his prison life did not affect him, 
or that it left him amicably disposed towards 
those responsible for it. But he always 
regarded himself as a soldier of the Irish 
Republic, to whom prison and suffering were 
the day's work : he nerved himself against 
prison and bore it, largely because of his 
proud consciousness of the cause he stood 
for : it was his proudest glory that " one of 
the Irish rank and file " could neither be 
bent nor broken by deliberately cruel treat- 
ment ; and he came out of prison, shaken 
indeed, steeled and hardened in the sense 
that he had developed an intense energy for 
national work and a contempt for drones, 
but clear-headed, vital, and neither warped 
nor embittered. In the ordinary way he 
never referred to his prison life at all, he 
was too busy doing national work of one 
kind or another to waste any time brooding 
over the past, or fulminating empty abuse 
against those responsible. And in the same 
spirit he wrote these chapters, recounting his 
prison experiences almost wholly from the 
personal and human aspect, with a lack of 
passion and an absence of rhetoric unusual 

xv 



INTRODUCTION 

considering what he had gone through. I do 
not know that Irish prison literature contains 
any better writing of its kind than the bulk 
of these chapters. 

His political principles were always clear. He 
stood for the full national demand for separa- 
tion and he would neither work for, nor accept 
anything less than that. Other movements 
the Gaelic League, the Industrial Revivals, 
the old Sinn Fein movement, had his sym- 
pathy, but he regarded them all as subsidiary 
to the main political ideal of separation, 
holding that the only Ireland which would 
ever be worth anything in the world would 
be an Ireland absolutely her own mistress. 
That ideal he held, not alone as an ultimate 
ideal, but also as an immediate ideal, and he 
never adopted the course which so many 
Separatists adopted of supporting actively the 
old Sinn Fein Policy as a practical and work- 
able policy pending developments. " Sinn 
Fein" he used to say, " is all right as far 
as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough." 
And he never lost that faith, which every 
Separatist has, that some time or other the 
mass of the people would, as he used to put 
it, " line up " on the right side. 

If I say a last word on his reasonableness, 
it is because so many people have assumed 
that his uncompromising political views were 
the result of his imprisonment. But, like 
Rossa, he was " an Irishman since he was 
born," and his imprisonment, while it cer- 

xvi 



INTRODUCTION 

tainly strengthened his political faith, left him 
without bitterness and utterly without that 
passion for revenge which is ascribed to him. 
He worked and planned against England all 
his days, but it was not so much against 
England as for Ireland. Those who are so 
fond of accusing Separatists of mere hatred 
probably never met one outside the pages of 
the Irish Times, and certainly never gave five 
minutes consecutive thought to the historical 
justification of the Separatist principle. It is 
an absolute impossibility for any Irishman 
who knows anything considerable of Irish 
history to have any real faith in any settle- 
ment short of Separation. In every genera- 
tion in Ireland there have been men and 
women of that faith, who can be induced by 
no plausibility yet invented to forego one jot 
of trie full claim of Ireland, whose opposition 
to English rule in Ireland is an opposition, 
not to bad government of the country, but 
to foreign government of the country, and 
who would take up arms just as cheerfully 
and remorselessly against an Imperialised 
Irish Government as against any purely 
English Government : believing that no 
settlement which does not give Ireland 
complete and absolute freedom, internal and 
external, and full power to organise her 
resources to defend that freedom, is worth 
more than the paper it is written on. 

It was the happiness of Tom Clarke to 
have linked up in his person two such un- 

xvii 



INTRODUCTION 

compromising groups, to have been on the 
one hand a young man in the righting forces 
of Fenianism after '67, and on the other 
hand a (comparatively) old man in the 
fighting forces of 1916. As a man who had 
spent fifteen of his best years in prison for 
Ireland, nobody could have cavilled at him 
had he left the work to younger men, but 
in heart and in mind he was as young as 
the youngest, and no man of them made the 
supreme sacrifice more proudly or whole- 
heartedly. He had the great gift of a great 
faith in his country, and he held firmly to 
the principles that are now proclaimed by 
the majority of Nationalists at a time when 
they seemea for ever snowed under. It has 
been recorded by one of the survivors that 
he addressed the men before the surrender 
at the G. P. O., and reconciled them to the 
surrender by giving it as his opinion that 
the fight which had been made had saved 
Ireland, and that he, after his life's work, 
was satisfied. And he has been proved right. 
Ireland to-day places him and his comrades 
in that Valhalla where sit Tone, Emmet, and 
Fitzgerald ; they have an indelible place in 
the memory of the Nation. 

P. S. O'HEGARTY. 



xvm 



BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE 

These chapters appeared in Irish Freedom 
in 1912-13. In the ordinary course they 
would have been revised and enlarged for 
book production it was Tom's intention to 
revise them and make a book of them but 
events prevented that, as they prevented the 
completion of the Recollections. They are 
printed now exactly as they were written 
mostly at slack moments in his shop at Great 
Britain Street (as it then was). 



xix 



GLIMPSES OF AN IRISH FELON'S 
PRISON LIFE 



EARLY PRISON THOUGHTS 

I AM not going to attempt to give anything 
like a complete history of my prison life. 
In the short space at my disposal that is out 
of the question. A detailed and connected 
history of nearly sixteen years' experience in 
English dungeons cannot possibly be crushed 
into so short a narrative. Such a history 
would in addition be largely uninteresting, 
and would mean the repetition of much that 
has been recounted by my fellow-prisoners, 
John Daly and James F. Egan. 

Prison life had for me really two sides 
the dismal, dark side, full of wretchedness 
and misery, that even now I cannot think of 
without shuddering, and, strange as it may 
seem, the bright side too, the side which I 
can now look back upon with some degree 
of pleasure and pride. 'Tis true there was 
not much of this, while of the other there 
was an unconscionable quantity. Looking 
back now, and comparing the dark with the 

1 A 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

bright side, I get a picture, as it were, of a 
few glimmering stars bright spots here and 
there in a black, thunder-laden sky and as 
it is likely to be more interesting, I will try 
to bring the bright side into prominence, 
and keep the dark side as much as possible 
in the background. The dark side of prison 
life for an Irish prisoner in an English 
convict prison is so hideously wretched that, 
in any case, I should despair of ever being 
able to describe it adequately. Had anyone 
told me before the prison doors closed upon 
me that it was possible for any human being 
to endure what the Irish prisoners have 
endured in Chatham Prison, and come out of 
it alive and satie, I would not have believed 
him, yet some have done so, and it has been 
a source of perpetual surprise to me that I 
was able to get through it at all. 

We must go back to April 1883 at the 
Old Bailey, London. Dr. Gallagher, Alfred 
Whitehead, John Curtin, and myself had 
been convicted of treason-felony, after a 
week's trial, before Lord Chief Justice Cole- 
ridge and two other judges. Immediately 
the Lord Chief Justice passed the sentence 
(penal servitude for life) we were hustled out 
of the dock into the prison van, surrounded 
by a troop of mounted police, and driven 
away at a furious pace through the howling 
mobs that thronged the streets from the 
Courthouse to Millbank Prison. London was 
panic-stricken at the time, and the hooting 



EARLY PRISON THOUGHTS 

and yelling with which the street mobs used 
to assail us, going to and from the Court- 
house whilst the trial lasted, need not be 
further noticed. A few hours later saw us 
in prison dress, with close-cropped heads 
" Penal Servitude for Life " had begun. 
That same day the rules and regulations 
were read to us. Nothing in them startled 
me like the one that stated, " Strict silence 
must at all times be observed ; under no 
circumstances must one prisoner speak to 
another." When I thought of what that 
meant in conjunction with another paragraph, 
" No hope of release for life prisoners till 
they have completed twenty years, and then 
each case will be decided on its own merits," 
and remembered with what relentless savagery 
the English Government has always dealt 
with the Irishmen it gets into its clutches, 
the future appeared as black and appalling 
as imagination could picture it. But the 
worst my imagination could then picture of 
English brutality was outdone by the horrors 
of Chatham Prison that I was afterwards to 
experience. 

In Millbank the surveillance was so close 
and continuous that we found it impossible 
to speak to each other. I tried twice, but 
was dropped on on both occasions. How- 
ever, we were able to communicate with 
each other in spite of all their watchfulness 
and strictness. We were determined at all 
costs to be able to send messages. Pen or 

3 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

pencil we had none. What of that ! A 
fellow has no business in prison unless he is 
resourceful and observant. The gates of our 
cells turned upon pivots, and the lower of 
these pivots was embedded in lead. Some 
one of us noticed this, and, when the officers' 
back was turned, stole over and managed to 
dig a bit of the lead out with a point of the 
scissors (we were employed in tailoring at 
this time). Presently a note was written on 
a piece of the regulation brown paper with 
the lead, giving instructions as to how cor- 
respondence could be carried on. Next day 
that note was shot into the neighbouring 
cell, under the very nose of the officer, shot 
in as you would shoot a marble, without 
any movement of arm or body. 

Henceforward while in Millbank we were 
able to communicate with each other. Of 
course, we were always liable to be searched 
when leaving the cell, and when returning to 
it searched again. 

Once or twice in Millbank it so happened 
that I had a note on special search days, 
but I contrived to get it out of my clothing 
and into my mouth unnoticed by the officer 
at my side. The other prisoners there had, 
I believe, occasionally to do the same thing, 
but none of us were ever caught with notes, 
nor were we ever suspected of carrying on 
this clandestine correspondence. 

Looking back now to my imprisonment in 
Millbank, I get a picture of a dreary time 

4 



EARLY PRISON THOUGHTS 

of solitary confinement in the cold, white- 
washed cell, with a short daily exercise 
varying the monotony. Day after day all 
alike, no change, maddening silence, sitting 
hopeless, friendless, and alone, with nothing 
in this world to look forward to but that 
occasional note coming from some one or 
other of my comrades, Gallagher, Whitehead, 
and Curtin, who were in the same plight as 
myself. 

Towards the close of the year 1883 I was 
roused up very early out of bed one morning 
and told to dress quickly and come out of 
my cell. Presently I found myself with 
Gallagher, Whitehead, and Curtin out in the 
corridor, and all four of us handcuffed to a 
gang chain. A strong posse of armed officers 
surrounded us, and away we were taken to 
the railway station, and, thus escorted, con- 
veyed to Chatham Prison. Featherstone, 
Dalton, Deasey, and Flanagan arrived in 
Chatham about the same time, and another 
batch of Irish prisoners from Glasgow at the 
beginning of 1884. A few months later two 
other Irish prisoners came. I saw them first 
in Chapel one morning, and, to my grief 
and surprise, recognised John Daly, whose 
acquaintance I had made some years before 
in the North of Ireland, and had again met 
in America shortly before I left there. His 
companion, K.56i, was James F. Egan, then 
a stranger to me. We soon came to know 
each other better, and before long were fast 

5 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

friends, and more loyal or kinder friends, or 
more manly, self-reliant men I could not 
wish to have by my side in a fight with the 
English foe inside those walls, or outside 
them either. I want no man's opinion of 
either Daly or Egan. The ordeal they went 
through under my eyes for years is a test of 
manhood as severe and searching as mortal 
man could be subject to, and I know in 
what spirit they met it and went through it. 
We three were so closely identified with each 
other in prison that to speak of my prison 
life without mentioning them would be 
impossible. 

We treason-felony prisoners were known in 
Chatham as " The Special Men," and some 
twelve or fourteen of us were kept, not in 
the ordinary prison halls, but in the penal 
cells kept there so that we could be 
the more conveniently persecuted, for the 
authorities aimed at making life unbearable 
for us. The ordinary rules regulating the 
treatment of prisoners, which, to some extent, 
shield them from foul play and the caprice 
of petty officers, these rules, as far as they did 
that, were, in our case, set aside, in order 
to give place to a system devised by the 
governor of the prison, Captain Harris. 
This was a scientific system of perpetual 
and persistent harassing, which gave the 
officers in charge of us a free hand to 
persecute us just as they pleased. It was 
made part of their duty to worry and harass 

6 



us all the time. Harassing morning, noon, 
and night, and on through the night, harassing 
always and at all times, harassing with bread 
and water punishments, and other punish- 
ments, with " no sleep " torture and other 
tortures. This system was applied to the 
Irish prisoners, and to them only, and was 
specially devised to destroy us mentally and 
physically to kill or drive insane. It was 
worked to its utmost against us for six or 
seven years, and it was during that time that 
all the men who succumbed went mad. 
One feature of this system was the " no 
sleep " torture, and for about four of these 
years I was kept at the most laborious work 
-in the prison, as moulder in the iron foundry 
on heavy castings. In addition, I was under 
special surveillance, and the officers had to 
pay special attention to me, or, in other 
words, they must annoy me by every means 
in their power. At night, jaded in body 
and mind with the heavy labour of the day 
and the incessant nagging of the officers, I 
would return to my cell, and when once 
inside the door would fling myself on the 
floor and not move until supper-time. If I 
went to bed before the bell rang it meant a 
bread and water punishment, and I was 
already getting enough of their systematic 
starvation. When the bell rang I would 
turn into bed, sometimes to sleep, sometimes 
to lie awake for hours, with body too weary 

7 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

and nerves too shattered for any refreshing 
sleep to come. If sleep came I was wakened 
within an hour by a noise something like 
the report of a small cannon being fired close 
beside me. The officer was inspecting us, 
and had merely banged the heavy iron trap- 
door after him. With the same loud noise 
the trap would be banged all through the 
night at hour intervals. The prisoner might 
get a few short snatches of sleep between the 
inspections, or perhaps his nervous system 
was so shattered with this and other in- 
genious tortures that he would not be able 
to sleep at all. This went on night after 
night, week after week, month after month, 
for years. Think of the effects of this upon 
a man's system, and no one will wonder 
that so many were driven insane by such 
tactics. The horror of those nights and days 
will never leave my memory. One by one I 
saw my fellow-prisoners break down and go mad 
under the terrible strain some slowly and by 
degrees, others suddenly and without warning. 
' Who next " was the terrible question that 
haunted us day and night and the ever- 
recurring thought that it might be myself 
added to the agony. 

Can I ever forget the night that poor 
Whitehead realised that he was going mad. 
There in the stillness, between two of the 
hourly inspections, I heard the poor fellow 
fight against insanity, cursing England and 

8 



EARLY PRISON THOUGHTS 

English brutality from the bottom of his 
heart, and beseeching God to strike him 
dead sooner than allow him to lose his 
reason. Such episodes are ineffaceable in 
the memory, they burn their impress into a 
man's soul. 



II 

THE INHUMAN TREATMENT OF DR. GALLAGHER 

JOHN DALY, James F. Egan, and myself 
during all those dark and hopeless years had 
each other's confidence and gave each other 
support and encouragement. The utmost 
endeavour of the authorities to crush us 
failed because we met it in a spirit of 
defiance, and stood loyally by each other with 
friendship aye, with love and sympathy. 
Every precaution that the prison officers 
could think of was taken to prevent us 
" special men " from communicating with 
each other. The closest surveillance, the 
utmost vigilance, and savagely severe punish- 
ments were awarded us if we were detected. 
Yet all their vigilance was set at nought, 
Daly, Egan, and myself right along were in 
constant communication with each other. 
We had our code of signals for communi- 
cating to each other by sight these we 
owed to Egan ; we had our post office, 
authorised, not by the Postmaster- General, 
but by John Daly. Through our post office 
thousands of notes passed. We had our 
telephones and our cell telegraph, which 
latter was introduced by myself very early 

in our imprisonment. 

10 



INHUMAN TREATMENT 

A couple of months after Gallagher, 
Whitehead, Curtin and I arrived in Chatham, 
sitting in my cell one day racking my brains 
to find a way to defeat the gaoler's sleepless 
vigilance the idea of telegraphing suggested 
itself. All that I could remember about the 
subject was that the Morse system was based 
upon two sounds which were represented 
on paper by a dot and a dash. The problem 
was to produce two different kinds of knocks 
on the wall of the cell and to combine the 
two sounds into a workable alphabet. After 
trying different kinds of knocks on my cell 
table I was satisfied that the dull knock made 
by the knuckles could not be mistaken for 
the sharp knock made by a button or slate 
pencil. I got my slate, and soon had an 
alphabet worked out. The next question was 
how to pass the new code to Gallagher 
The lead with which we had so often written 
notes I had left behind in Millbank, and 
there was none to be found in Chatham. 
Even with lead to write a note it was a 
matter of great difficulty, so closely were we 
watched, to pass it on. For months I never 
spoke to a living soul except to my comrades 
a few times, and each time it brought me 
a term of bread and water punishment. 
However, I was determined to establish the 
telegraph system. I was working at tailoring 
at the time, and with a needle and a sheet 
of brown paper I proceeded to write out the 
code for Gallagher. Placing the paper on my 

ii 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

pillow the letters were formed, perforating 
the paper with the needle dot by dot each 
letter with its corresponding dot and dash. 
In the same way on other sheets of paper I 
gave the necessary instructions dot by dot 
with the point of the needle. .It was slow 
work, especially as the vigilant eye of the 
officer peeping every now and then into my 
cell obliged me to conceal the paper when I 
heard him approaching. It took nearly two 
days to write that note, but when it was 
finished it was plain and readable. On the 
Saturday following I concealed it in my 
stocking when going out for the weekly bath, 
and in the bath house managed to get into 
the next compartment to Gallagher and threw 
the note over the partition to him. He got 
it safely, and within a week we were able to 
converse freely through the wall dividing our 
cells. On the following Saturday I had 
another note ready for another of my 
comrades, and so on week by week till we 
were able to send telegrams along through 
six or seven cells. 

Being thus closely in touch with Gallagher 
and Whitehead, as time went on I noticed 
them change and get queer, and I knew that 
step by step their reason was giving way. 
When they were released they were pro- 
nounced by the experts who examined them 
to be hopelessly insane, yet they were no 
worse then than they had been for the last 
seven or eight years of their imprisonment. 

12 



INHUMAN TREATMENT 

Everyone inside the prison walls officers and 
prisoners priest, parson, and doctor knew 
right along that they were insane. The 
English Home Office knew it, but their 
vengeance had to be sated whether the 
victims went mad under the torture or not. 
For seven or eight years, knowing well that 
they were insane, the authorities continued 
to punish them in the most cruel manner 
for their little irrational acts, for which they 
were in no sense accountable. 

Daly, Egan and myself, although getting it 
as hard as, and perhaps harder than, our 
companions, did all we could to have atten- 
tion drawn to the monstrous inhumanity of 
their treatment. Governor Harris and his 
warders simply laughed at us. Many and 
many a letter that we got to write to our 
friends outside was filled with denunciations 
of the way these insane prisoners were 
treated. Gallagher, Whitehead, Duff, McCabe, 
Devany, Flanagan, and Casey were all out 
of their minds at this time. Our letters 
were, of course, suppressed, and never got 
farther than the Governor of the prison. 
I still have a copy of a letter I wrote to 
Mr. John E. Redmond, who paid me many 
a visit in prison, and whose kindness on 
those occasions I can never forget. When 
this letter was written I managed to make a 
shorthand copy of it, and this copy, with 
some other documents, I managed to smuggle 
out of prison when I was released. The 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

letter was dated June i8th, 1895, but was, 
of course, suppressed, and never reached its 
destination. I will quote one part of this 
letter in order to show the pitiable condition 
of the insane prisoners and the brutality of 
the Government in keeping men in such a 
condition in penal servitude : 

14 It is nothing directly concerning myself 
or my case that causes me to take the unusual 
course of sending you a letter. What I wish 
to bring under your notice has reference to 
one of my fellow-prisoners here, J 463, 
Albert Whitehead. . . . Whitehead is, as 
you are doubtless aware, one of the unfor- 
tunate Irish prisoners whose mind has been 
shattered by the villainous treatment to which 
we have been subject. It is now some seven 
or eight years since he first broke down, and 
at no time since has he recovered. . . . His 
fellow-prisoners or those of them that are 
not so far gone as himself are to a man 
convinced of his insanity, convinced many 
times over, and you will find all the lately- 
released Irish prisoners, without a single 
exception, are of the same opinion. ... It 
is true he is not what is called outrageous 
the nearest approach to that are the times 
when he has kept us awake all night long 
raving at the top of his voice. But although 
for so far not dangerous to others, he 
certainly is dangerous to himself, and it is 
upon this point what I am about to narrate 
bears. 



INHUMAN TREATMENT 

" One day, a couple of weeks ago, while at 
work in the carpenter's shop, where he and 
I are employed, happening to glance round 
in his direction (the officer was away at the 
other end of the shop) I saw Whitehead 
kneeling on the floor gathering something 
like salt off a board and putting the stuff 
into his mouth. The stuff was crushed glass. 
I went over to him, and dropping on my 
knee beside him caught him by the shoulder 
and asked him what he was eating glass for. 
He looked at me with the pitiful, dazed stare 
that is habitual to him now, and said, 
' What, what ! ' I picked up some of the 
fragments that he had dropped, and again 
asked him, ' What do you mean by eating 
this glass ; don't you know it will kill you ? ' 
He replied in a dull, listless way, ' A pound 
of it would do you no harm,' and then kept 
repeating in answer to all my questions, ' A 
pound of it would do you no harm.' With 
my handkerchief I dusted away the fragments 
before him and searched round his bench for 
more glass. Finding some more I threw it 
out of the window. All this only occupied 
a few minutes, and, luckily for me, my 
' flagrant violation of the prison rules ' was 
unobserved by the officer. Had I been seen 
I would have been visited with a term of 
bread and water punishment. Just think of 
it a whispered word of sympathy to this 
poor fellow a single word spoken with a 
view to prevent him killing himself, and I 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

would receive as severe a punishment as the 
authorities here inflict on habitual criminals 
for thieving. And yet here in England 
they go into hysterics over the horrors and 
brutality of Siberia and ring the changes on 
the humanity of the English prison system. 
. . . The truth is that as far as a refined 
system of cruelty is concerned there is 
nothing on God's earth to-day to compare 
with the treatment which we Irish prisoners 
have been receiving at the hands of the 
English Government." 

I then went on to ask Mr. Redmond 
to endeavour to have an impartial and 
competent man sent down to examine into 
Whitehead's mental state and put a stop to 
the monstrous cruelty that had been carried 
on for so many years. As I said before, the 
letter was suppressed, and is now in the 
English Home Office, preserved along with 
my prison record and dozens of other letters 
I wrote that were likewise never delivered 
by the authorities. 

On the Saturday after I had seen White- 
head swallow the glass I made application to 
see the prison Catholic chaplain in order to 
lay the facts before him \vith a view to try 
and induce him to move in the matter and 
try to put a stop to the inhuman treatment 
of Whitehead. I was taken out of my cell 
and brought into the chapel, and after a 
time was ushered into the Sacristy, where I 

16 



INHUMAN TREATMENT 

found Father Matthews sitting on a chair 1 
with his surplice and stole on ready to hear 
confessions. I asked him would he allow me 
to speak to him outside the confessional, he 
consented, and I told him my business con- 
cerned Whitehead, who, as he must know, 
was quite insane. He said he knew very 
well that he was, that as a matter of fact 
Whitehead had numbers of times came out 
there to him to make his confession, but 
knowing he was out of his mind he (Father 
Matthews) never gave him absolution, know- 
ing the poor fellow was as incapable of 
committing sin as a baby. " Sometimes," 
said he, * Whitehead has come up to the 
altar rails on Sunday morning to receive 
Holy Communion without even coming out 
at all to confession. When he does I 
administer the Holy Sacrament to him. 
Were I to refuse him, there might be a 
scene, and the scandal that would ensue 
would, I think, be worse than my giving it 
to him." I then told him about Whitehead 
swallowing the glass, and asked him to bring 
the matter before the authorities. He told 
me he couldn't do that. " Why not ? " I 
inquired. " Were I to tell the Governor this 
about Whitehead he would at once ask me 
how I knew all that, and I would have to 
mention your name, and he would conclude 
that you and I had been hobnobbing." 
"Well," said I, " what matter let him." 
He replied, "Oh, you don't know the attitude 

17 B 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

of those people to me : they would be only 
too glad to get an opportunity to send me 
back to my bishop." I must confess I felt 
very indignant with the priest, and said to 
him, " Well, if you are afraid to bring this 
to their attention in order to try and put a 
stop to such barbarous inhumanity, I am not, 
and I will do it." He asked, " How ? " I 
replied, " That's my business," and left him, 
and was taken back to my cell. Later on 
the letter to Mr. Redmond was written. 

In due course I was notified by the 
authorities of the suppression of my letter. 

I was expecting a visit from Mr. Redmond 
about this time, and he came to see me soon 
after. I told him all about the Whitehead 
affair, and about the letter I had written to 
himself which had been suppressed. I asked 
him on his return to London to see the 
Home Secretary if possible and put the facts 
before him concerning Whitehead, and 
suggest to the Home Secretary to have that 
suppressed letter of mine sent for, and by 
every means urge him to have an independent 
alienist sent down to examine W T hitehead's 
mental condition. I have every reason to 
believe that Mr. Redmond did this. At all 
events, very shortly after Mr. Redmond's visit 
a couple of experts came to Portland Prison 
and examined W T hitehead and Gallagher, and 
in the course of some weeks after they and 
some others of the Irish prisoners were 
released. 

18 



INHUMAN TREATMENT 

The prison officials tried to make out that 
Whitehead was feigning insanity all along. 
In fact, up to the time he and Gallagher 
were released the doctors maintained that 
both of them, as well as the others, were 
perfectly sane, and merely shamming in- 
sanity, and they kept on punishing these 
poor lunatics for shamming insanity. I have 
a copy of a prison report on Gallagher's case 
submitted to the Home Secretary by the 
prison's visitors. Such documents are painful 
reading, but the truth about English methods 
has got to be told, and so I will give their 
own official report, taken from their Blue 
Book, and let it speak for itself : 

"As to Gallagher's treatment, we find in 
September 1887 he, according to the report 
of the medical inspector and medical officer, 
commenced feigning insanity, and since that 
time he has been constantly under medical 
observation, and he has also incurred 16 
punishments for refusing to go out to labour 
and using improper language to officers. In 
October 1888 he commenced vomiting his 
food, and continued to do so until February 
1889, and thus managed to reduce himself into 
a very low state. He was admitted to the 
infirmary, and the vomiting ceased, and 
shortly afterwards in March 1889 was 
discharged from the infirmary. . . . He was 
re-admitted in September 1889, and has 
continued under medical treatment till the 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

Us 

present time (that is, igth April, 1890, when 
the report was sent in] for debility caused by 
persistent vomiting, which the medical officer 
believes to be voluntary, and pretended 
insanity. Dr. Blandford describes him as 
subdued and reticent in manner, with a 
downcast eye full of suspicion, and said that 
his manner appeared to indicate that he felt 
that he had been foiled in his attempt to 
deceive, but that he was still playing a part, 
and he thinks he is a dangerous man, who 
will require very careful watching and 
management." 

This was the sort of reports the English 
Home Office wanted, and they got them, and 
meanwhile the torture of the insane prisoners 
went on. 

When Dr. Gallagher was finally released 
Dr. Ferris, the New York specialist who 
examined him, pronounced his recovery 
hopeless, and attributed his insanity solely to 
the treatment he had received in prison. 
Dr. Ferris said in his report : 

" I see his companion, Whitehead, is also 
demented. The prison officials must have 
treated these men cruelly. Gallagher's con- 
dition is worse than death. The torture we 
are told he received during the first five years 
now that we know he is insane for eight 
years must have been very severe. The 
punishing of this man for shamming was 

20 



INHUMAN TREATMENT 

cruel in the extreme. No one who sees 
Gallagher two or three times could for a 
moment doubt the reality of his insanity. To 
mistake his acts for shamming is inexplicable. 

" (Signed), 
"ARTHUR WARREN FERRIS. 

" Savoy Hotel, New York City, 
September *jth, 1896." 

Dr. Gallagher is still living. He has been 
in a lunatic asylum on Long Island, New 
York, since his release in 1896. Whitehead, 
on his arrival in America, was also examined 
by experts, and likewise pronounced to be 
hopelessly insane and placed in an asylum. 
Such is the " humanity " of England's prison 
system where Irish political prisoners are 
concerned ! 



Ill 

A SKIRMISH WITH INSPECTOR LITTLECHILD 

IT must not be thought that Gallagher and 
Whitehead received any worse treatment than 
the other prisoners. By no means. Generally 
speaking, we were all treated alike, for the 
authorities deliberately set themselves to drive 
us all mad or to kill us, and they succeeded 
in doing this with most of our number. 
Some of us realised this situation early in 
our imprisonment, and saw that the merci- 
lessly savage treatment was meant to smash 
us, and three of us, Daly, Egan and myself 
deliberately set ourselves to defeat the 
officials' design. It was a fight against 
frightful odds. On the one side were the 
prison authorities, with all the horrors of 
their prison machinery, relentlessly striving to 
accomplish their objects with unlimited ways 
and means at their disposal. On the other 
side were the prisoners, each standing alone 
and friendless, but resolved never to give in, 
with nothing to sustain him in the fight but 
his own courage and the pride he had in 
being an Irish Fenian, without encourage- 
ment save the sympathy and cheering words 
coming to him every now and then from his 
plucky and self-reliant comrades, fighting the 

33 



A SKIRMISH 

same fight as himself, in the same spirit of 
" no surrender." Throughout the whole 
time we stood loyally by each other, and, as 
I have said, were in close and constant com- 
munication with each other. Never a week 
passed but I received a voluminous note 
from John Daly and some weeks two or 
three notes and he received the same from 
me. This went on for about eleven years. 
As with Daly, so with Egan, for the eight 
years he was with us. Tell that to the 
prison authorities and they would say it was 
utterly impossible. But we, too, had reduced 
our business to a scientific system it was 
diamond cut diamond. At all events they 
never had the satisfaction of catching notes 
with either of us. 

Several times I got terms of thirteen days' 
punishment for notes of mine being found 
with others of the prisoners. 

With what pleasure I used to look forward 
to getting these bulletins from them and the 
nervous delight with which I would peruse 
them and the peculiar satisfaction I used to 
feel at our being able to outwit Harris and 
his satellites and enjoy such luxuries in spite 
of all their precautions and carefully laid 
traps. 

Egan's notes would sometimes be illustrated 
with comic sketches, and they used to afford 
me many a chuckle and quiet laugh in the 
corner of my cell. At Christmas time we 
all wrote verses to each otherverses more 

23 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

treasonable perhaps than poetic. I cannot 
remember any of Daly's or Egan's verses, 
but have by me a copy of one of my own 
effusions, and a few verses of it will serve as 
a sample of our prison rhymes and show the 
spirit in which we were facing the Chatham 
music. 

My Jimmy, dear, 

Another year 
Has snail-like crept away 

Since you I wrote 

That " P. P." note, 1 
My gift last Christmas Day. 

And I again 

Unearth the pen 
To try what I can do 

At stringing rhyme 

This Christmas time 
For comrades staunch and true. 

Another year 

For Ireland, dear, 
We've spent in these drear cells 

Where England strives 

To blast our lives 
With torments fierce as hell's. 

But their worst w r e scorn, 
For we're Fenians born, 

1 On the previous Christmas I had written to Daly and 
Egan a skit on Pontius Pilate, alias Governor Harris 

2 4 



A SKIRMISH 

And, by heaven, the same we'll die ; 

No slaves are we, 

We bend the knee 
To none but God on high. 

Ah ! no, old man, 

They never can 
Our Fenian souls subdue, 

For our love is bound 

Too firmly round 
Our cause to prove untrue. 

Here's to our land, 

May she withstand 
The might of England vile ; 

May the future bring 

On swifter wing 
True freedom to our Isle. 

The "pen," to which I referred in the 
second verse, was the prison name we had 
for my tiny bit of blacklead pencil. This I 
used to conceal by burying it in the floor of 
my cell. Thanks to Daly we were rarely 
without a " pen " he kept us supplied. 

Not only had we to exercise the utmost 
care and craftiness in writing and transmitting 
our correspondence, but we had also to very 
carefully get rid of the notes after reading 
them. It would never do for one of them 
to be found it would mean thirteen days' 
punishment for the writer, if not for others, 
besides making the officers, if possible, more 
vigilant than ever. 



There were perforated iron ventilators built 
into the walls of our cells, and these masked 
horizontal air shafts. They formed very 
convenient waste paper receptacles, for any- 
thing pushed through the ventilators dropped 
down a foot or so into the air shaft and 
could not be seen. 

While the Times-Pamell Commission was 
on, and before we had yet been visited by 
Inspector Littlechild, of Scotland Yard, or 
had heard a word about the Commission (in 
fact, I may say that during those years we 
heard practically nothing from the outside 
world) one day returning from labour I was 
halted in the corridor on my way to my cell 
by the search warder and questioned as to 
how long I had occupied the cell I was in 
then and had I been putting paper into the 
ventilator. It was the duty of this officer to 
search our cells at uncertain times, and for 
this purpose he was armed with hooks and 
spikes and a bull's-eye lantern and other 
paraphernalia for examining the chinks and 
crevices and suspicious angles of the cells. 

The search warder removed the ventilator 
of my cell and got a coal scuttle full of 
material that had once been paper. Away he 
went to Daly's and Egan's cells, and some 
other cells as well, and found about an equal 
quantity in each. In reply to all interroga- 
tions we protested our ignorance of how the 
material had got there. 

The prison authorities knew that somehow 
26 



A SKIRMISH 

we were able to carry on a clandestine 
correspondence. This they were aware of 
from their having captured a few notes by 
accident. Finally they thought of the venti- 
lator in the cells, and eager to find some 
scrap of evidence that could be used by the 
Government at the TYww-Parnell inquiry 
they ordered the ventilators to be opened 
and searched. No doubt the private and 
confidential corrsepondence of John Daly and 
other Irish Felons in Chatham Prison would 
have a peculiar value if they could only get 
hold of it, and so ventilators were torn down 
and many buckets full of material taken out. 
It was carefully, very carefully examined, but 
all to no purpose, for not a single note was 
ever put into the ventilators without first 
being put into the mouth and reduced to 
pulp by rolling it between the hands. That 
is the history of the private and confidential 
correspondence of certain treason-felony 
prisoners in Chatham which the Government 
did not produce at the Times-Parnell 
Commission. 

Shortly after this incident came Pigott's 
visit to Daly and Inspector Littlechild's 
interview with the so-called Irish- American 
prisoners with a view to getting informers to 
give evidence before the Commission. 

Some ten or eleven of us were one day 
kept in our cells after dinner instead of being 
turned out with the others in the usual way 
for labour. As I waited in my cell that 

27 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

evening, wondering what this meant, I could 
hear one after another of the others in the 
cells before me taken away and then brought 
back again after intervals of half or three 
quarters of an hour. 

Presently came my turn, and I was marched 
away and ushered into a cosy little room, 
where I found Mr. Littlechild sitting at a 
table in front of the fire. He and I were 
old acquaintances. He was in charge of the 
party of Scotland Yard officers who arrested 
Dr. Gallagher and myself in London ; it was 
he who had charge of working up the case 
to convict us. 

Soon as I got inside the door I was met 
with a bland smile and a " Good day, Mr. 
Wilson ; how are you ? " That was the first 
time I had ever been addressed as " Mr." in 
prison, and I duly made note of the courtesy 
and suspected he wanted to work something 
out of me. " Good day, Inspector ; what's 
up ? What has you here ? " With a 
considerable lot of hem-ing and ha-ing 
Littlechild started off spinning a rambling 
kind of a yarn about nothing in particular. 
Now, I knew that Mr. Littlechild did not 
come all the way to Chatham for the mere 
pleasure of telling me that kind of thing. 
I knew Scotland Yard methods, and that he 
was there to do a stroke of business, so I 
cut his rigmarole short with :< I say, Mr. 
Littlechild, never mind beating about the 
bush, just tell me what you want with me 
and I will give you an answer." " Oh, just 

38 



A SKIRMISH 

so, Mr. Wilson ; thank you very much ; 'tis 
a pleasure to talk to a sensible man like you, 
etc. Well, you must know that there has 
been a Special Commission appointed by the 
Government to investigate certain allegations 
that have been made against the Irish Parlia- 
mentary Party. These allegations are to the 
effect that there is a connection between that 
party and the Irish Revolutionary Party in 
America, and that the workings of the one 
party are made to serve the purpose of the 
other. This question at the present time 
excites the greatest possible interest right 
through the country, but especially in Ireland. 
Most of the Irishmen prominent in public 
life are to appear and give evidence before 
the Commission. In fact, everyone is 
anxious to go forward as a witness. Certain 
persons in London, knowing that you came 
from America in connection with the skir- 
mishing movement, believe that you were in 
a position there to enable you to speak 
authoritatively on the subject. These persons 
have sent me down here to see you so as 
to give you an opportunity of also going 
forward as a witness before this Commission 
to say what you would wish to say about the 
matter. There is no reason why you should 
not have a chance of appearing as a witness 
any more than the others, like William 
O'Brien or Michael Davitt, etc." " Now," 
said he, dipping his pen in the ink, " I am 
ready to take down anything you'd wish to 
say." 

29 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

My answer was brief and to the point. 
" Look here, Mr. Inspector, if a single word 
of information would get me out of here 
to-morrow, sooner than give it to you I'd 
prefer to remain here till the day of judgment. 
Please take that as final." 

I rose from the chair thinking that that 
had closed the interview, but it hadn't. Mr. 
Littlechild was not to be choked off so easily. 
He talked at me for about three-quarters of 
an hour, complimenting my intelligence one 
moment, calling me a damned unpractical 
fool the next, and so on. I said very little 
in fact, scarcely anything beyond remind- 
ing him at every turn when he paused for 
breath that " I was not the scoundrel he 
would like to have me, and that I had given 
my answer." He threatened, he appealed, 
and when his bullying did not work he tried 
gentleness. He was the stern police officer 
one moment and the sympathising kind 
friend the next. He would contrast my life 
in there as a prisoner with life outside as a 
free man. Why should a man like me be 
cooped up there with the blackguardism and 
ruffianism of the country and be subject to 
all the misery and degradation of convict 
life, denied God's free air and the love and 
sympathy of friends and everything else that 
goes to make life worth living ; neglected 
even by those who were really responsible 
for my being in prison, for after all I had 
been used by others. There were they 



A SKIRMISH 

enjoying the sunshine and pleasures of life 
going about with plenty of money in their 
pockets and caring no more about me or my 
sufferings than if I were a disgrace to them. 
He gave me to understand that if I would 
only be " sensible " (as he phrased it) not 
only would it mean release for me but also 
a job in the Civil Service. 

At length the hateful interview drew to a 
close. Littlechild snapped out, " That will 
do." and I got up and was making for the 
door and the escort that awaited me outside 
to see me safely back to my cell. As I was 
about leaving Littlechild said : " Well, now, 
look here, Wilson " (he had dropped the 
" Mr." early in the interview) "am I to 
understand and report to those who sent me 
here that you refuse to give me any infor- 
mation to prevent the commission of crime ? " 

I replied : " Mr. Inspector, you are to 
understand that I refuse to give you infor- 
mation for any purpose whatever." 

" Well," said he, " when you go back to 
your cell and think this thing over coolly, 
you will probably change your mind ; in 
fact, I know you will. If you do just drop 
me a line. The Governor will give you pen, 
ink and paper. Scotland Yard will find me. 
Good day." 

I went out and the escort brought me 
" home " to my cell. The uppermost feeling 
in my mind was wrathful indignation at this 
outrage put upon me by the authorities. 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

When next due to write a letter I wrote to 
a friend telling of Littlechild's visit and what 
my answer was, and telling what I thought 
of the authorities for compelling me to 
receive such a visitor on such a business. 
That letter was suppressed, but I was 
allowed to write another in lieu. This 
second letter was written in practically the 
same terms. That also was suppressed, and 
again I was allowed fresh paper to write 
another. When the Governor notified me of 
the suppression of the second letter I asked 
him what was the reason for the suppression of 
these letters because the authorities did not 
wish me to inform my friends of Inspector 
Littlechild's visit and the offer he made me. 
After a short pause the Governor said : " No ; 
it is not." I then wrote the third letter, 
telling about the visit and my reply to Mr. 
Littlechild, but avoiding anything in the 
nature of blaming the authorities. That 
letter was despatched all right, and the friend 
to whom I sent it returned it to me after I 
was released from prison. It is now in my 
possession. 



IV 



THE CHATHAM " IRISH FELON " 

IT was not the fault of the prison authorities 
if Littlechild's mission wasn't more successful. 
If making things hot for us could have 
prepared the way for his success, he certainly 
would have succeeded. We were never so 
mercilessly or savagely dealt with as we were 
for two or three years previously. In the 
preceding winter I underwent some forty 
days' punishment inside of three months. It 
had been an exceptionally cold winter, and, 
after taking from me portions of my clothing, 
I was put into the coldest cell in the prison 
one that was known as the Arctic cell. 
Some time before I had to complain to the 
director about this cell being so frightfully 
cold that I had known the thermometer on 
frosty days, with a north-eastern blowing, to 
stand some degrees below freezing point. I 
got forty days' starvation and solitary con- 
finement in that cell. Talk of hunger and 
cold ! Many a time I was forced to chew 
the rags I got to clean my tinware in an 
effort to allay the hunger pangs. 

One day when I was nearing the end of 
this punishment, wanting to leave the cell 
for a moment, I put out my signal. After a 
while the officer came and let me out, and 

c 




AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

then stood looking over the corridor railing, 
apparently interested in the ward below. I 
went off along the corridor, and nearing the 
end my heart gave a great jump. There on 
the floor beside one of the cell doors were 
several pieces of broken bread. I was 
absolutely starving and could have eaten it 
ravenously, but like a flash a revulsion of 
feeling came, and in my impotent rage and 
misery I uttered curses fierce and bitter 
against English villainy as ever Irishman 
uttered. The blackguard officer, whose name 
was Membry, had got me thirteen days of 
the long spell of punishment I was doing, 
and, not satisfied, he had put that bread 
there thinking that in my famished state 
J could not resist taking it. He stood pre- 
tending to look into the ward below, but his 
eye was on my every movement, and had I 
touched the bread he would have pounced 
upon me and taken it from me, and would 
have had me up before Pontius Pilate to be 
awarded still more punishment for " stealing 
bread." Many will think such incidents 
incredible, and before I went to prison I 
should have thought them incredible too. 

By the time I had finished that terrible 
forty days I was so weak and exhausted that 
I was unable to straighten myself or to stand 
upright, and I could not walk without 
staggering like a drunken man. Being 
absolutely exhausted I applied to the doctor 
to be put on light labour for a while, as I 

34 



THE CHATHAM "IRISH FELON' 

was unfit to do hard labour. It was customary 
for any prisoner who applied to be put on 
light labour, to have his request acceded to, 
because light labour entails a corresponding 
reduction of food. But my application was 
refused, and, exhausted as I was, I was kept at 
hard labour and had to work out my salva- 
tion as best I could. 

Twenty-three of the forty days I had been 
sentenced to was given me by the Governor 
on a false charge. An officer charged me 
with having a piece of newspaper in my 
possession, though I knew no more of it 
than a person who had never stood inside 
the prison gates. However, some years 
afterwards, I had the satisfaction of honestly 
earning the twenty-three days with compound 
interest, for I managed by an underground 
channel to get in newspapers wholesale for 
about two years as well as to carry on com- 
munication with outside friends without being 
suspected. How this was done will be told 
in the next chapter. 

It was at this time I read a copy of Mr. 
Gladstone's second Home Rule Bill in the 
Weekly Freeman. I got the paper while at 
labour, and the question was how to get the 
bulky thing into my cell, for only in the cell 
and on Saturday evening would it be possible 
for me to read it. The paper contained not 
only the bill but the debate on its introduction. 
My usual way of dealing with a newspaper 
was to tear out the most interesting para- 

35 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

graphs and articles and bring them into my 
cell one at a time concealed in my under- 
clothing, somewhere easy to come at in case 
of emergency. The uninteresting portions I 
destroyed at once. But I could not deal 
with the Home Rule Bill and debate in this 
way, for it filled several pages, and it was, 
need I say it, so very interesting that it would 
have to be brought into the cell entire and 
read, re-read, and studied. 

To meet the rub-down search that was 
certain, and the special search that was 
possible, I got a piece of brown wrapping 
paper and tore it into the shape of an insole 
for my boot. Then folding the Weekly 
Freeman, I put it into the bottom of one 
of my boots with the paper insole over it. 
From this it will be seen how neat and well- 
fitting our boots must have been. My next 
move was to make a needle. The mere 
making was not a very difficult task, as I 
was a tinsmith, and had the tools necessary 
to do the job, but to do it and the rest 
without letting the officers suspect anything 
required rather artful dodging. But at this 
time dodging the officers' eyes and dodging 
the prison rules had been reduced to a fine 
art by Daly and myself. 

Well, when the bell rang to knock off 
labour I was ready with the needle in my 
mouth so that I could quietly spit it out in 
case of emergency, and the newspaper in my 
boot prepared for either " rub-down " or 

36 



THE CHATHAM "IRISH FELON* 

special search. There was no special search 
that day, and of course I got through the 
rub down easily enough, and as soon as I 
got to my cell I ripped open my mattress 
and placed the newspaper in the centre of it 
under the cover and then threaded my needle 
and sewed up the mattress again. Your old 
convict has always some thread hidden away 
somewhere in his cell. 

All this occured sometime in the middle 
of the week, and when Saturday afternoon 
came the mattress was again ripped open 
and the paper taken out and the remainder 
of the evening was spent reading the 
speeches, studying the Bill, and making 
notes. Next day, Sunday, I passed the notes 
to Daly with the paper and the needle so 
that if he was not able to finish the reading 
before turning out in the afternoon he could 
do as I had done, conceal the contraband in 
his mattress. 

Talking of newspapers reminds me of the 
first and only time I edited a paper. It was 
in prison in the worst days of the Chatham 
regime, while I was working as a stereotyper 
in the printers' shop. Daly, in his notes to 
me at this time, took to writing in newspaper 
style, using the editorial " We " on all 
occasions. Entering into his humour I told 
him I would give him a head-line in a week 
or so to show him how a thing of that kind 
ought to be done. So I set myself the task 
of printing a newspaper, or rather a sheet 

37 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

resembling a newspaper, for news I had 
none. It certainly was a difficult thing to 
attempt under the eyes of the five officers in 
the shop, who had me, as an Irish prisoner, 
singled out for special surveillance, and it 
had to be carried through without arousing 
the slightest suspicion. As a start I made 
" pie " of a couple of formes I had got to 
stereotype that is, I loosened the quoins or 
wedges and spilled the type all in a heap. 
Then I went to the officer in charge and 
reported this " accident," and asked him to 
allow me to take down some cases from the 
compositors' department to my own corner 
and re-set the job. I got permission, and 
brought down the cases and was ready to 
start on my newspaper. Of course, I wasn't 
going to waste much time sorting the " pie," 
and instead of going into the cases it went 
into my melting pot, I worked at my paper 
at every odd moment I could, and it was 
only occasionally I could get a few minutes 
unobserved, and after eight or nine days I 
got it up after sundry accidents and close 
shaves of being detected. The next difficulty 
was to get it printed, for each machine and 
press in the shop had men working round it, 
and I had to be just as careful of them as 
of the officers, for they would have been only 
too glad to give me away to curry favour. 
It was out of the question, to approach any 
of them, but necessity is truly the mother 
of invention. " Any port in a storm," I 

38 



THE CHATHAM " IRISH FELON" 

thought, and turned to my stereotyper's oven. 
This I saw would answer the purpose. A 
stereotyper's oven is an apparatus closely 
resembling a letter-copying press, and I 
placed my first page on the bed of the oven, 
inked it, and laid the paper on the type, 
brought down the top plate, and applied the 
necessary pressure. It printed beautifully, 
and in turn each page of my newspaper was 
printed off. It was on tissue paper, because 
ordinary paper would have been too bulky to 
escape the everlasting searches. 

Anyhow, on Sunday I delivered the paper 
to Daly, and his coughing and chuckling in 
his cell that evening told me how he was 
enjoying the perusal of it. I have said that 
it was a newspaper without news, but in 
appearance, except that it was printed on 
tissue paper, it might easily be taken for a 
newspaper just come in from the outside 
world. In capitals on the top of page one 
was the name " The Irish Felon," and under 
that in small capitals came the information 
" Printed and Published at Her Majesty's 
Convict Prison, Chatham, by Henry Hammond 
Wilson, Saturday, such and such a date." 
The leading article was as treasonable as a 
leading article could well be. Next followed 
a page of what purported to be news, then 
an essay on prison philosophy, and I had 
one page illustrated. The illustrations were 
wood-cuts of convicts who had escaped from 
prison, and whose portraits had appeared in 

39 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

the Hue and Cry. A couple of the most 
villainous-looking of these pictures, with 
" criminal bumps " and all that, were made 
to stand for the infamous Sadlier and Keogh, 
and served as pegs upon which to hang the 
story of these renegades' base betrayal. 

Another meek and harmless-looking photo 
was made to stand for that wise old gent 
who was supposed to be versed in all ancient 
lore, and who wrote interestingly upon the 
domestic policy of the Lacedaemonians this 
old party, when interviewed by the represen- 
tative of " The Irish Felon," had a great 
deal to say about England's Prison System 
very little of it complimentary. Of course, 
there was a poet's corner where I dedicated 
some verse to Pontius Pilate alias Governor 
Harris, not very complimentary to that 
gentleman, commencing with : 

The song I'll sing 
In the air will ring, 

Of Pontius Pilate O ! 
That thundering thief, 
Our Chatham chief, 

The grunting dog you know. 

I forget the rest of it, but the last verse 
ended : 

So come along 
And raise the song, 

Damn Pontius Pilate O ! 
40 



THE CHATHAM "IRISH FELON' 

Pontius Pilate little suspected that while he 
and his assistants were striving with might 
and main to destroy us, body and mind, 
we were indulging in such amusements and 
having such gibes at him. 



V 

THROUGH TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD 

AFTER working some time as a tinsmith in 
Portland Prison, where I had been engaged 
at making oil bottles, cannisters and various 
kinds of tinware, I was shifted out to the 
yard to the job of packing the manufactured 
articles. 

When changed to this packing job I hadn't 
an idea where the tinware I had to pack was 
being sent to. I merely got orders day by 
day to pack certain classes of the goods into 
the cases supplied to me for that purpose. 
When I finished packing, the cases were 
immediately taken up to the prison store 
rooms out of the yard where I worked. 

My curiosity was aroused almost as soon 
as I started on the job as to where the 
enormous quantity of tinware was being sent. 
Setting myself to discover this, I soon learnt 
that the prison authorities had a contract 
with the Admiralty for supplying such tin- 
ware as was used by the English war vessels, 
and that this tinware I was packing was sent 
up to Woolwich Arsenal. 

This gave me an idea which I at once set 
myself to work out. 

For the purpose of clearly understanding 
my narrative it will be necessary to explain 

42 



THROUGH TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD 

that one side of the yard I worked in was 
occupied by the carpenters' shop. The tin- 
smiths' shop adjoined the carpenters' shop, 
and formed a second side to the yard, while 
a sawpit shed and entrance to the yard 
formed a third side, the fourth side being a 
blank wall. 

Communicating with John Daly, who was 
then working in the carpenters' shop, I asked 
him to try and plane me up a thin piece of 
stuff, something like a Venetian blind lath, 
and to manage to drop it out of the shop 
window into the yard so that I could get it. 
John, of course, did as I requested, and I 
smuggled away the lath without the officers 
inside or the sentry who had charge of me 
outside noticing anything. I had some black 
paint for stencilling purposes in connection 
with lettering and numbering the packing 
cases, and I gave the lath a coat of this 
paint. After it was dry I got a piece of 
chalk (supplied to me for keeping count of 
the tins I packed) and wrote on the lath : 
" For God's sake throw in a piece of newspaper 
any old newspaper and earn the gratitude 
of a long term convict" The packing cases 
were all numbered, and the one I then had 
ready was No. 24, and it was to be packed 
full of five-gallon oil bottles, and these 
were to be packed with cocoanut fibre. 
The handles of the bottles were all placed 
upwards, and I ran my lath with the chalk- 
written message through the handles of three 

43 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

or four of the bottles in such a way that 
whoever unpacked the case could not fail to 
notice it. The packing finished, No. 24 was 
sent away, and in due time it was returned 
empty to the prison. It was nearly dinner- 
time the day it reached me in the yard, but 
I was so anxious to know whether it brought 
anything that I couldn't wait till after dinner, 
so I at once unscrewed the bolts, lifted the 
lid, and peeped in. The case appeared to 
be full of newspapers. I hastily closed the 
lid down again and re-fastened it. There 
was scarcely time to finish when the bell rang 
out to knock off labour. 

After the usual routine, parading and 
searching, we of the Penal Cells lined up 
in our usual places ready to be marched off 
to our cells. While waiting, Daly (who, of 
course, knew all about the game I was on) 
and I got the opportunity to exchange a 
few words. He had noticed the arrival of 
No. 24 in the yard, and at once inquired 
1 Well, anything ? ' 3 " Yes, a donkey load." 
" Good Lord, what can you do with them ? " 
" Can't say yet ; will think it over in the 
cell." 

In the cell during dinner hour I thought 
out a plan of dealing with the situation, 
which I proceeded to put into execution 
after our resuming labour. 

On getting back to the packing- yard I 
moved the case into a blind corner between 
the tinsmiths' and carpenters' shops, then 

44 



THROUGH TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD 

got a couple of lids of other cases, and with 
these made a platform on each of the two 
front sides of the case. Upon these plat- 
forms I proceeded to pile up as many bottles 
as they would hold. All this was done with 
a view of making it difficult for any of the 
officers to get near the case when I removed 
the lid and got inside it. 

Having secured all the approaches as far 
as possible I was then ready to take off the 
lid. It was hastily removed, and I jumped 
inside and lost no time in putting the news- 
papers out of sight by placing them all at 
the bottom and arranging the cocoanut fibre 
packing on the top. When satisfied that 
everything was right I wet the packing and 
then jumped out and went over to the sentry 
and told him, with an air of great concern, 
that the packing in that case was very wet, 
that if tinware was packed with that fibre 
there would be such damage to the bottles 
that they would be rejected and returned, 
and that someone would get into trouble. I 
suggested that he should allow me to take 
the packing out and spread it on the timbers 
in the sawpit shed, where it would dry out 
in a very short time. The sentry went over 
to the case and examined the packing ; 
finding it quite wet he adopted my sugges- 
tion, and ordered me to take the packing 
and spread it in the shed, and tnen he 
moved off that very obliging sentry with 
his rifle at the shoulder, pacing backwards 

45 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

and forwards a few feet away from me, his 
chief business being to guard me and see to 
it that I was guilty of no infringement of 
prison rules or of any irregularity. 

I at once set to work at securing the 
newspapers. I got into the case, caught up 
a small bundle of the papers and secured 
them inside my waistcoat, then gathered up 
a bundle of the wet packing, holding that in 
my arm so as to conceal the lump under my 
waistcoat, got out of the case and over to 
the shed, and from behind the timbers 
arranged the packing to dry, and at the same 
time concealed the papers ; then made 
another journey back and forwards, and kept 
on repeating this until I had all the papers 
in safety. Day by day for a long time after 
this I examined portions of the papers 
that is, I would take some papers with me 
when going to the closet and look through 
them. On discovering a " newsy " bit I 
would, after reading it, tear it out and take 
it back with me to be put in concealment 
in order to be passed on to Daly later. 

From this time onwards newspapers of 
various kinds kept coming into me in fairly 
good numbers, and what a heavenly break it 
was on the hideous monotony of convict 
prison life ! 

At length I decided to try and get into 
communication with friends outside through 
the medium of Woolwich Arsenal. It was 
not difficult for me to get a sheet of tissue 

46 



THROUGH TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD 

paper, as the high-grade tin that was supplied 
to the prison came to the tinsmiths' shop 
packed with a sheet of tissue paper between 
the sheets of tin to protect the surface. I 
provided myself with a sheet of this paper 
and wrote three different notes on it. One 
was to the nameless friend in Woolwich 
Arsenal, who was sending me the newspapers. 
In this note to him I asked him to write his 
name and address on the sheet and then 
send the sheet on to London to a lady whose 
address I gave, stating that he would get in 
return a 5 note for himself and a bundle 
of newspaper cuttings. I told him the 5 
note was for himself and the newspaper 
clippings would be for me, and to send them 
in the usual way. 

The second note on the tissue paper, 
addressed to the lady friend in London, 
merely asked her to send on the sheet to 
my old colleague, Jim. She would under- 
stand what I meant, and sent on the notes 
to James F. Egan, who had been released 
from Portland some time previously. 

The third note, addressed to Egan, read 
something like this " Dear Jim, I got a 
taste of the gold fish you presented to Jerry ; 
'twas delicious. X also got a taste and 
pronounced it good. He is well, and has 
gone in for acrobatics over Wee's good luck. 
Please attend to request in above first note. 
Regards from X and from Di." 

The note to Egan was written in a kind 
of Prisonese, the translation of which is as 

47 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

follows : " Dear Jim, I got a read of the 
newspaper you sent to Blank (a prison 
officer) ; it was very interesting. John Daly 
also got a read of it, and was delighted with 
the news. He is well and in the best of 
spirits. Attend to above (Woolwich Arsenal) 
business. Daly sends regards. Same from 
Henry H. Wilson." 

The note to Egan, written in the way I 
wrote it, was a guarantee to him of its 
genuineness. He was certain when he re- 
ceived it that it came from me, for only 
Daly or myself could have written it, and 
only the three of us could understand the 
language of it that language had been 
manufactured by ourselves for the purposes 
of our prison correspondence. 

This note went through all right and 
reached Egan, who lost no time in attending 
to the business. He and Dr. Mark Ryan 
went down to Woolwich to the address given 
on the tissue paper note, and interviewed 
my nameless friend (he was an Englishman, 
now dead, otherwise this story would not be 
written now) ; they gave him the 5 note 
and a bundle of newspaper cuttings ; the 
latter came into me all right and were a 
delightful treat. Egan made the selection, 
and knew what was likely to be most 
interesting. This arrangement went on for 
some time, and I then got ambitious and 
devised a plan of escape from Portland 
Prison, which I was satisfied would be suc- 
cessful, if I could only have the assistance 



THROUGH TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD 

of a reliable confederate outside the walls to 
work in co-operation with me. The question 
of safely communicating the plan outside 
seemed to me the principal difficulty in 
connection with the matter. To overcome 
this difficulty I decided to communicate the 
plan in shorthand to Egan as being the less 
risky way of sending it. Egan and I could 
read each other's shorthand. Up to this no 
shorthand had been used in the notes passing 
through Woolwich Arsenal. My nameless 
friend never suspected I was anything else 
than an ordinary convict up to the time 
of Jim Egan and Dr. Ryan's visit to him. 
After that he knew he had been showing 
kindness to one of the Irish Political 
Prisoners, consequently I feared a note sent 
to him that would be all in shorthand might 
alarm him, so I determined before saying 
anything about the plan of escape to send 
a - note through him to Egan in ordinary 
writing, but with a short paragraph in 
shorthand. This I thought would to some 
extent familiarise him with the shorthand, so 
that in the following one, which of necessity 
would have to be a bulky one, he would not 
baulk at the volume of shorthand. However, 
that second note was never written, for the 
reason that a few days after I dispatched the 
other with the shorthand paragraph an order 
came down to shift me from the tinsmiths' 
party and work I was at, to another party 
and other work. 

49 D 



LEARNING A TRADE 

IT is popularly supposed that prisoners are 
taught trades in English Convict Prisons. 
Such was not the case during my time in 
Penal Servitude. At most they may get 
opportunities to pick up one or more trades. 
That is, a prisoner might be put into one of 
the trade shops and be given some tools and 
some material and get a piece of work to do 
which in reality would be extremely simple 
to the ordinary tradesman in the shop. It 
would not be explained to him how he must 
set about doing the job, yet they have a class 
of officers known as " trades warders," who 
are supposed to understand tradesman's work, 
but these officers do not teach trades to the 
prisoners as a matter of fact, they only visit 
the shops occasionally and then but to give 
orders concerning what jobs are to be done, 
never to teach a prisoner how to learn a trade. 
The green hand in a shop may by obser- 
vation pick up how to do his first piece of 
work that is, by keeping an eye upon how 
the old hands do things. After a time, the 
new hand, should he master the simple work, 
gets other work a bit more difficult ; that 
finished, he gets something still more ad- 
vanced, and so on step by step. 

50 



LEARNING A TRADE 

If the prisoner lacks observation or has no 
aptitude for the work, he may, as happens 
with a great many prisoners, remain in the 
shop for years, and at the end know very 
little more about the trade than the first day 
he was put to it. What I state in reference 
to learning trades is accurate as far as it 
applies to the ordinary convict. But in the 
case of Irish Political Prisoners this business 
of learning a trade was a frightful experience, 
because of the countless opportunities it 
afforded to the officers in the trade shop to 
wreak vengeance upon us opportunities that 
were fully availed of. In this connection it 
must be remembered that at the time of 
our conviction all England was panic-stricken. 
The English imagination got rattled and 
started to work overtime at high pressure 
speed. There was blood on the moon and 
a skirmisher or Irish Fenian to be seen at 
every turn. 

The panic was at its height when we were 
arrested in London. Immediately the howl 
went up for vengeance. A special Bill 
dealing with the situation was introduced in 
Parliament by the Government of the day 
and passed into law in record time. If I 
remember rightly, that Bill was introduced, 
read the necessary number of times in the 
Commons and House of Lords, and received 
the Royal signature, all in about twenty-four 
hours. However, to come back to our con- 
viction, once inside the walls of the Convict 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

Prison we were soon made to realise that the 
prison gates closed out from us a great many 
things that we had been familiar with in the 
outside world. But the prison gates did not 
close out from us the spirit of vengeance 
that was holding sway throughout England. 
That spirit held inside the walls with far 
greater intensity than it did outside ; it was 
the atmosphere of the place all the years we 
were there right up to the end. Now, to 
come back to the matter of learning trades. 
Let me take at random the trade of tinsmith 
and my own early experience in learning the 
trade. 

jfr The first day I was put into the shop the 
officer in charge gave me a set of tools 
hammer, rasps, soldering irons and a quantity 
of soldering liquid he showed me a place 
at one of the work benches and told me my 
place at work would be there at the bench 
beside a soldering stove. A number of partly 
completed oil bottles were placed on the 
bench before me and some bottle necks, and 
he told me to "go ahead and solder the 
necks to the bottles." Never having been 
inside a tinsmith's shop in my life before I 
hadn't the remotest idea how to set about 
doing the job, and I am sure looked as 
foolish and awkward as I felt. It was out 
of the question to ask any of the prisoners 
around me how I should do the soldering 
to have done so would have brought me 
three days' bread and water punishment on 

52 



LEARNING A TRADE 

a charge of " speaking to another prisoner," 
nor dare I stand there doing nothing, that 
would have brought me three days' bread 
and water with the accompaniment of 
" plank bed " on a charge of " idleness 
during working hours." 

Although new to the tinsmiths' shop I 
was at this time quite an old hand at the 
game of learning trades, as I had already 
mastered several of them, so knowing the 
ropes I started in to make things a bit lively 
for myself by holding up my hand and going 
to the officer and quietly informing him 
(what, of course, he already knew) that I 
knew nothing about tinsmith work, and was 
at a loss to know how I was to do the 
soldering. Then the expected happened. 
That officer glared at me and roared at me, 
and proceeded to empty the vials of his 
wrath upon my wooden head for not knowing 
how to do such a simple thing as solder a 
seam ; I was the limit of stupidity, and, in 
his opinion, there was so little brains in that 
numbskull of mine that, by God, he wondered 
whether I knew enough to eat my dinner 
\\hen I returned to my cell. I knew better 
than to interrupt him ; were I to do so I 
would get three days' punishment on a 
charge of " Insolence to an officer." How- 
ever, he exhausted his stock of nice talk on 
me for the time being, and came to a stop 
by sarcastically inquiring if by any chance I 
could condescend to open my eyes and look 

53 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

at the way the men beside me were soldering, 
and advised me to waste no more time idling 
but to get to my work and solder damned 
quick. The soldering seemed very simple, 
indeed, when one watches a workman doing 
it. Smear on some liquid on the tin, heat 
the iron, and apply the solder to the joint 
and make the seam with the heated iron. 
How many times by my mistakes have I 
given the officer a chance to open out and 
lash me with his tongue ! My iron not hot 
enough or my iron too hot, and the tinning 
burnt off it or trying to solder without 
cleaning the iron, or trying to do it, and 
forgetting to apply the " spirits," and so on, 
at each mistake I got it his jeers, his scorn, 
his sarcasm, his outrageous insults. But, 
merciful God ! why need I go over it again 
day in, day out, harassed and worried at 
each step. On it went from week's end to 
week's end for years, until the trade was 
mastered. No sooner had I arrived at the 
point of being as good a tradesman as any 
other man in the shop, and thus becoming, 
to some extent, free from continuous nig-nag, 
than I would be shifted off to another shop 
to make a fresh start to learn another trade, 
with the full accompaniment of incessant 
harassing, and then having, after years of 
learning, mastered that one, only to be again 
shifted off to learn another, and so on. 

From the cleaners' party I was moved off 
to the foundry, where after four or five years 

54 



LEARNING A TRADE 

I learnt iron moulding ; out of that away to 
learn stereotyping, then on to learn japanning 
and stencilling, from that to carpentering and 
joinery ; mastering that shifted off to learn 
tinsmithing ; from the tinsmiths' shop to 
learn ivood turning ; after mastering that set 
at pattern-making continuous performance for 
almost sixteen years. 

The officers of the prison whether in 
Chatham or Portland left nothing undone to 
make life miserable for us. During the day, 
whether at work, on parade, or in our cells, 
they harassed us all the time. During the 
night it was the same, especially during the 
years when they were applying the " no 
sleep torture " while this lasted we never 
could get longer than an hour's sleep at a 
time. Then it was the sterling friendship of 
manly comrades counted for much. Then it 
was, John Daly and James Francis Egan, 
that I learned to know your nobleness of 
soul. Yes, when your own hearts were 
wrung with anguish under the torture you 
were suffering, no weak cry, no coward's 
whine fell from you. You were men all the 
time, you had only a pleasant face and a 
word of sympathy in your cheery notes for 
your younger comrade. 



55 



VII 

BOBBY BURNS OF CHATHAM 

ONE of the most extraordinary characters I 
met whilst inside the prison walls was 
" Bobby Burns." He was certainly the 
strangest, and in a class all by himself. 
Bobby had been born in Ireland, but lived 
a long while in Scotland, where he had been 
convicted for forgery, I believe. 

From the point of view of the prison 
authorities Bobby was one of the worst 
characters, if not the very worst, that ever 
came inside a convict prison gate. Yet 
Bobby Burns is associated in my memory 
only with kind thoughts kinder thoughts 
than I have for any prison official be he 
priest, parson, doctor, or warder. 

The first time we became aware of 
Bobby's existence was on a certain Sunday in 
Chatham when we Irish political prisoners 
were at exercise, monotonously walking 
around the ring in the prison yard, with a 
ten-pace distance between each two, several 
officers being in charge of the party. All of 
a sudden we heard a terrible smashing of 
glass ; it came from one of the cell windows 
overlooking our yard ; the glass was being 
rapidly smashed, pane by pane, as if with a 

of> 



BOBBY BURNS OF CHATHAM 

sledge-hammer. The whole thing only took 
a few seconds, but it was a clean job not 
a particle of glass remained in the sash. 
Immediately could be seen the jolly smiling 
face of a prisoner clutching the iron guard- 
bars with both hands. His first words were 
" Cheer up, boys. To hell with the 
Crown and Constitution. I wanted to see 
you as I heard you were Irish Fenians. 
God save Ireland. Maybe you'd like a 
song," and off he started to sing ' Who 
Fears to Speak of Ninety-Eight ? " He 
had a loud voice, and that song seemed to 
ring all round the prison. Our officers had 
tried to frighten him down by shouting at 
him and shaking their clubs at him, but 
Bobby quite ignored them. All the same he 
didn't get far with the song ; the officers 
inside had interrupted him and pulled him 
down from the window, and the next thing 
we heard was the sounds of scuffling, jangling 
of key chains, and Bobby's howls of pain as 
the officers beat him with their clubs. Then 
we heard the cell doors close as the officers 
left his cell, and immediately Bobby was up 
at the window again to resume the song as 
if nothing had happened. 

For many a Sunday after that Bobby 
appeared regularly at the window and sang 
Irish songs for us. I don't think there is an 
Irish rebel song known to me that I haven't 
heard Bobby sing during those Sunday 
concerts. Of course, all the time Bobby 

57 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

was liable to interruption by the officers 
coming in and pulling him down and beating 
him, but just as soon as they would go out 
and close the cell door Bobby would get up 
to the window again and continue as if 
nothing had happened. Sometimes he used 
to inform us in a kind of stage whisper 
" That was Parker and Beel (or whoever it 
might be) in murdering me." 

At times Bobby would vary the programme 
by introducing an impromptu speech full of 
" local colour." We heard him on a variety 
of topics, but his pet subject was " English 
Humanity as illustrated by the Convict 
System of the Country." Certainly Bobby 
should have been an authority on the subject. 
He had been through the whole course- 
flogging, penal chains, parti-coloured dress, 
dark cells, silent cells, penal cells, semi-dark 
cells, No. i scale and plank bed accompani- 
ment, and all the other varieties of punishment 
for torturing the human mind and body. 

Poor fellow ! All the time we knew him 
he was constantly under punishment. 
Punishment, some of it sanctioned by prison 
rules, but the worst and more brutal punish- 
ment inflicted upon him at the whim of the 
individual officers. The officers had every 
opportunity to do this in the lonely separate 
cells. Many a time we have heard poor 
Bobby " done up " in his cell. At times he 
would get frantic and rave and howl like a 
frenzied lunatic. At times, when he would 

58 



BOBBY BURNS OF CHATHAM 

keep this up too long, he would be brought 
over and put into one of the " silent cells," 
below where we were located in the penal 
cell. He could there howl all he wished, but 
no word of it could be heard outside once 
the cell door closed upon him. These 
" silent cells " were dark, and with their 
peculiar cone-shaped roof were specially 
constructed to allow no sound to escape out. 

The hand of every official in the prison 
was against Bobby, and Bobby's hand was 
against them. Yet he was not by any means 
a vicious character. As far as I could learn 
Bobby's bad conduct started over a question 
of religion. He was a Presbyterian, and on 
certain week days he, in common with those 
of other Protestant denominations, had to 
attend services in the Church of England 
Chapel. Bobby protested and refused to go ; 
and kept on refusing and getting punished 
for this every time. However that may have 
been, he certainly had no respect for prison 
rules, and at the time we knew him he 
appeared to treat with contempt all prison 
rules and regulations ; his voice was always 
to be heard, speech-making or singing, loud 
laughing or howling with pain from beating 
Bobby couldn't be subdued. 

On one occasion Bobby was awarded a 
flogging thirty-six lashes with the " cat " 
officers and everyone else thought that would 
subdue him for a while at least. They 
brought him out to the yard and fastened 
him up to the " triangle " (all floggings took 

59 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

place outside the cell windows of the Irish 
political prisoners) and gave him his flogging. 
He was then taken back to his cell, and the 
doctor had the usual large plaster of zinc 
ointment applied to his lacerated back. In 
a couple of hours after, when the officer 
opened the cell door to inspect him, he found 
Bobby sitting on his bed-board with one 
knee thrown over the other, his arms folded 
and his cell pot (the only thing allowed him 
in the punishment cell) jauntily placed on 
the side of his head for a hat, and Bobby 
himself singing at the top of his voice an old 
popular music-hall song" Oh, we'll carry 
on the same old game." 

Poor Bobby ! I believe he died in Chatham 
before we were shifted away. 

Speaking of Bobby's treatment reminds me 
of another prisoner who worked for a while 
with me in the foundry. This was George 
Barton, who was decidedly feeble-minded, 
and afTorded great amusement to the officers, 
and, indeed, to most of the prisoners, by his 
queer, uncouth ways. George worked the 
handle of the coal-grinding machine in the 
foundry. This was the only work it was 
safe to put George at, as he had merely to 
keep on turning the wheel. 

One day a brute of an officer named 
" Bully Parker " came to the foundry door 
and stood speaking to the officer in charge. 
Parker caught sight of George in the corner 
beside him (I worked in the opposite corner) 
and went over and said something to George. 

60 



BOBBY BURNS OF CHATHAM 

I didn't catch what it was, but I saw Parker 
draw back and give the poor simpleton a 
terrible kick in the stomach. George gave a 
wild yell and fell down unconscious. Parker 
dashed out laughing. The officer in charge 
bade one of the other prisoners bring over 
some water, and after a while George regained 
consciousness and was helped to his legs 
he appeared to be in great pain sobbing and 
crying he leaned on the wheel for support. 

I went over to the officer in charge and 
made application to speak to the chief warder 
when he next came around, then went back 
to my work. Soon after Principal Warder 
Ruffel came in, and I was brought over to 
him, and I made complaint to him of what 
had happened, Barton all the time crying 
and moaning. Ruffel went out, and after a 
few moments two assistant warders came in 
and took Barton to the infirmary. I never 
saw him again, but I heard he died in a very 
short time after being taken to the infirmary. 

I told of this incident in a letter soon after 
the occurrence ; that letter was suppressed, 
and should be found amongst the other 
suppressed letters, etc., in the Prison Depart- 
ment of the Home Office. 

The English convict prisons, as I knew 
them, contained a motley assortment of 
criminals drawn from the different strata of 
English society. The ex-M.P. was there, the 
banker and snip broker represented ; we had 
lawyers and doctors, policemen and soldiers, 
artisans and labourers, wastrels and scoundrels 

61 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

^ . 

of various degrees. As the years passed, on 
they came, criminals all, thousands of them, 
passing in from the gutters of English civili- 
sation and passing out again. I had them 
for companions these criminals, guilty of 
almost every crime in the calendar, ranging 
from the multi-murderer down to the 
courtmartialled soldier. But let that pass. 
England might force me to associate with 
the dregs raked in from the gutters, might 
shave my head like theirs, and stamp the 
Government broad arrow all over me ; humi- 
liation might be heaped on to me with an 
unsparing hand, and punishments diabolically 
brutal measured out for years, but never for 
one moment did I forget I was an Irish 
Political Prisoner, and, in spite of it all, 
never felt any degradation. On the contrary, 
I wore that convict garb with a certain 
amount of pride, and took satisfaction in the 
thought that all her laws and with all her 
power this great England could not force me 
one of the mere units of the Irish rank 
and file to regard myself as one of the 
criminal class any more than I could ever 
be forced to regard myself as English. 

The struggle for Irish freedom has gone 
on for centuries, and in the course of it a 
well-trodden path has been made that leads 
to the scaffold and to the prison. Many of 
our revered dead have trod that path, and it 
was these memories that inspired me with 
sufficient courage to walk part of the way 
along that path with an upright head. 

62 






VIII 

THE GOLDEN RULE OF LIFE FOR A LONG 
SENTENCE PRISONER 

IN the course of these articles I have referred 
at length to the brutal severity of the prison 
treatment of the Irish political prisoners, but 
in this connection, up to the present, I have 
only dealt with what might be termed the 
crude brutality of our jailers such as the 
long spells of starvation punishment, the no 
sleep torture, the perpetual harassing, etc. 
But besides punishment of this class there 
was another and more refined kind that 
seemed inspired by a spirit of devilry and 
aimed at galling the finer feelings of a man's 
nature and was calculated to blur and deaden 
the moral sense. As an instance of this class 
I will mention the " Special Search," which 
occurred frequently about twice a month 
through all the years. On these occasions 
we would be stripped stark naked and sub- 
jected to the most minute examination of our 
person so minute that oftentimes the bull's 
eye lamp was used. Had this search stopped 
short at a minute examination of the hands 
and between the fingers, of the soles of the 
feet and between the toes, of the mouth and 
inside the jaws and under the tongue, it 
would be disagreeable enough ; but it went 

G3 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

further, and to such a disgustingly indecent 
extent that I must not here do more than 
imply the nature of it. This search would 
sometimes be carried out to the officers' 
accompaniment of a running fire of com- 
ments in keeping with the nature of the work 
they were engaged in. 

Besides this search we were subject to the 
ordinary " rub down " search at least four 
times a day. In this the prisoner merely 
unbuttoned all his clothing without removing 
it, and the officer carefully felt him all over. 
I have been obliged to complain to the 
prison authorities of the indecent and hurtful 
way some of the officers mauled me while 
subjecting me to this search. That complaint 
will be found entered up in the official 
" Complaint Sheet " with my other records. 

When the English Government, in 1848, 
decided to degrade the Irish political prisoner 
to the level of the ordinary criminal and 
passed the Treason Felony Act, they did not 
tell the world it would be part and parcel 
of the game to try and debase his mind and 
sap his self-respect. Nevertheless, such un- 
doubtedly seemed to be the spirit and design 
of the authorities in their attitude towards 
the political prisoners during my time. 

I have before me at the present moment 
the official document handed to me by the 
Governor of Pentonville Prison the morning 
I was released. It is a " Licence to be at 
Large" and is dated from " Whitehall, 2ist 

64 



THE GOLDEN RULE OF LIFE 

day of September, 1898," and goes on to 
state that " Her Majesty is graciously pleased 
to grant to Henry Hammond Wilson, alias 
Thomas James Clarke, who was convicted of 
Treason Felony . . . her Royal Licence to be 
at large. ..." * This Licence is given subject 
to the conditions endorsed upon the same. ..." 

This is the endorsement referred to : 

" This Licence will be forfeited if the holder 
does not observe the following conditions." 

Then follow four conditions, No. 3 of 
which is as follows : 

" He shall not habitually associate with 
notoriously bad characters, such as reputed 
thieves and prostitutes" 

This document is signed, " M. W. Ridley" 
That is, by the Home Secretary of the day, 
Sir Matthew White Ridley. 

Lying before me is another document a 
letter written by myself in Portland Prison 
when I had been nearly fifteen years in 
prison. The letter was addressed to my 
brother and was sent out to him. He gave 
it back to me after I was released. The 
following extract from it will serve as a 
standard to measure up Sir Matthew White 
Ridley and his No. 3 condition and those 
concerned : 

" I had a letter from Mrs. , and was 

a good deal amused with her idea that the 
life I was living in here was something like 
that of a Carthusian saint or a * Rapt 
Culdee.' Bless the woman's soul ! That 

65 E 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

would never do at all. When a mortal man 
feels in all its bitterness what it is to have 
the delicate curves and tender angles of his 
human nature rubbed up and currycombed 
against the grain, then is not the time to 
' rub salt in ' from within by interior nig-nag 
and self-inflicted worry. Why, man alive, 
had I set to work on those lines, endeavouring 
to cultivate a lackadaisical tone of mind, my 
wits would have been gone years and years 
ago. No. Clinch your teeth hard and never 
say die. 

" Keep your thoughts off yourself all you can. 

" No mooning or brown studies. 

" Guard your self-respect (if you lost that 
you'd lose the backbone of your manhood). 

" Keep your eyes wide open and don't bang 
your head against the wall. 

" These and a few others, which the 
deferential regard my prison pen has for 
The Rules prevent me from mentioning 
here, are ' The Golden Rules of Life for a 
Long Sentence Prisoner, ' that might be found 
hung up in my cell had I any say in the 
furnishing of it." 

In magazines, etc., one oftentimes comes 
across articles dealing with England's prison 
system. In these it will be noted that the 
keynote of the system is " humanity " 
developing the better nature of the erring 
brother and all that. 

I never found the slightest trace of any 
such spirit inside the walls ; on the contrary, 

66 



THE GOLDEN RULE OF LIFE 

when I let my memory go back to those 
times, and turn where it will either in 
Chatham or Portland, I can only find brutal 
persecution, and this spirit found its way 
into ever} 7 little detail of the daily routine. 
For years we political prisoners were not 
allowed slates all other prisoners were 
supplied. 

For a long while I never got any but girls* 
and boys' trashy story books, when I was 
due for a library book. When I complained 
to the Governor about the matter, and asked 
to be given some kind of books that would 
be adapted to my educational rating, he 
ordered the escort to take me away, and next 
time I became due for a library book they 
gave me a volume of nursery rhymes 
' Ba, Ba, Black Sheep, have you any Wool," 
" Little Bo Peep Fell Fast Asleep," etc. 
infantile rhymes of that class and nothing else. 

Some time later on, they gave me an 
extraordinary book. I forget the title of it, 
but it was one of the fiercest anti-Popery 
books I ever read, although I had read through 
some hot stuff of that kind up in Ulster, 
where I was raised. 

The next time I became entitled to write 
enabled me to put my complaint on record. 
I told of the trashy books I had been getting, 
of my complaint to the Governor, of the 
nursery rhymes result, ancf the virulent anti- 
Popery book given me a Catholic that was 
specially marked for " Protestants only," My 
letter was, of course, suppressed. 

67 



IX 

PASSING THE TIME IN PRISON 

MANY and strange were the expedients re- 
sorted to in order to give occupation to the 
mind, and thus save ourselves from being 
driven mad. It was ever present before me 
that were I to " let go " of myself madness, 
was inevitable. It required, at times, all the 
effort I was capable of making to enable me 
to choke off despondency and wrench the 
mind away from dwelling upon the miseries 
of such a life. 

Looking back to those times memory 
shows me a picture of myself in that white- 
washed cell of mine, sitting with slate and 
pencil, devoting hours and hours to all sorts 
of calculations. Not only have I counted 
every brick in my cell and every bolt that 
studded the ironclad doors, and every perfo- 
ration in the iron ventilators in that cell, and 
calculated the weight of the bricks used in 
building it, and also worked out the number 
of bricks used in building the entire prison 
and figured out the total weight. Yes, many 
an hour have I spent turning that prison 
inside out and upside down, re-arranging the 
bricks of it into a pyramid one time or 
into a square, and so on, and calculating 
dimensions ; then, again, placing the bricks 

68 



PASSING THE TIME IN PRISON 

end to end with a view to finding out what 
distance they would extend ; that done, place 
them side by side to see how far they would 
stretch by that arrangement, and after that 
build them up one on top of another to find 
out how high they would reach. As a result 
of calculations I could at one time have told 
the total number of buttons on the clothing 
of the entire population of that prison or 
the number of " broad arrow " marks that 
was stamped on their clothing. I have taken 
clippings of my hair for several weeks from 
the weekly cuttings, and measured these 
samples with a micrometer (one of the tools 
I used when pattern-making) and calculated 
by these measurements that over six feet 
of hair had been cut off my head during 
thirteen years. 

On one occasion I got a volume of CasselVs 
Popular Educator, issued to me as a library 
book. It was the volume where the short- 
hand lessons commence. I started in to 
study them, and after mastering the lessons 
in that volume applied and obtained the 
other volumes one after the other until I 
learnt all that was to be got in them about 
shorthand. Then, by way of practice, I 
set to work on the Bible. Starting at the 
beginning of the Old Testament, I worked 
my way right through the whole book to the 
end of the New Testament, stenographing 
every word of it from cover to cover. That 
finished, I started again and went over the 

69 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

same ground a second time. By the time I 
had finished all this I could write pretty fast, 
and was curious to know what my speed was. 
As I had no watch or clock in the cell to 
measure a minute for me I was puzzled for 
a while as to how the test could be made. 
However, I eventually hit upon an idea that 
enabled me to solve it. 

Away up in the turret of the prison church 
was a clock that struck the hours. We could 
hear the striking in our cells. I utilised that 
clock for my purpose in this way. Sitting 
with pencil and slate one evening, when I 
knew by the quietness of the prison that it was 
nearing seven, I waited till the clock started 
to strike, and simultaneously I started to 
write something from memory at my best 
speed and came to a stop when the clock 
finished striking. Counting the number of 
words I had been able to write I made a 
note of it. Next night I was again ready 
waiting for the clock, but this time with my 
finger on the pulse of my wrist. When the 
clock began striking I began counting the 
pulse beats, and noted how many beats were 
made while the clock was striking seven. 
Assuming that my pulse was beating at the 
rate of a normal healthy man (seventy beats 
per minute) and that it made a certain 
number of beats in a definite period of 
time, and that I was able to write a certain 
number of words in exactly the same period 
of time, I was able, by the simple Rule of 

70 



Three, to calculate the number of words per 
minute I could write. 

In the long winter evenings in the cells 
we used to do a good deal of telegraphing, 
and continue it after turning into bed at 
eight o'clock. Many and many a night have 
I lain awake for hours in the dark holding 
converse with comrades in the various cells 
on our corridor, for telegraphing could be 
carried on between two prisoners though 
four or five cells might intervene that is, 
provided the fellow receiving the message 
pressed his ear against the wall, making, as it 
were, an air-tight connection. By this means 
the listening ear could hear the slightest tap 
on the wall. The slightest sound with the 
finger nail, that would be quite inaudible to 
the person making it, could be distinctly 
heard by the air-tight ear in any of the four 
or five cells on either side of whoever was 
sending the message. 

John Daly for many months had a chum 
in his cell that helped him to while away 
many an hour. This was a spider he tamed 
and trained, and many an intereting bulletin 
came from John concerning the whims and 
antics of his pet. John placed a standing 
order with me during this time for supplying 
all the moths I could capture in my cell for 
his spider. Flies were very scarce in the 
cells. Scarcity of food, I suppose, accounts 
for this, but in the season there used to be a 
great many moths, hence John's order ; but 
as he himself will, I hope, tell the story of 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

his spider later on, I must only refer to it in 
a passing way. So, too, with the poisoning 
of John in Chatham with belladonna. I saw 
him inside half an hour after the dose had 
been administered to him. We were being 
brought out of our cells after dinner to go to 
labour. Looking at him I saw at once that 
he was very bad, his eyes bulging and his 
tongue protruding. To my whispered 
question, " What's the matter, John ? ' he 
replied with great difficulty, " Belladonna ; 
they've poisoned me." That was all he could 
say. A few minutes later, after we had been 
distributed to our respective labour gangs, I 
saw John drop and being picked up and 
carried away. A Special Commission was 
afterwards appointed to investigate this 
poisoning, and also the treatment of the 
treason felony prisoners generally. The 
result was published in a Government Blue 
Book. 

After Dr. Gallagher, Alf Whitehead, and 
some others had been driven mad by the 
prison treatment something happened that 
made me feel sure for a time that I, too, was 
going smash. The thought was horrifying. 
My turn had come going mad like the 
others. The torture of that experience is 
just as fresh in my memory to-day as it was 
at that time. The recollection can never 
leave me. 

This is what led up to it. One evening, 
sitting in the quietness of the cell, there 
commenced a loud buzzing in my ears. I 

72 



PASSING THE TIME IN PRISON 

slapped my ears again and again to try and 
get rid of it, but the buzzing was persistent, 
and nothing I could do would remove it or 
ease it. I tried everything I could think of, 
but all to no purpose. All night long it kept 
buzzing away, and with a queer sickening 
feeling the thought came to me that I was 
nearing the insanity mark. I reasoned the 
matter out with myself there in the dark, 
and came to the conclusion that the tension 
on the nerves had been so great that the 
breaking point had been reached that the 
system was breaking down, and that this 
buzzing was the first indication that I had 
noticed. While in the cell the noise kept 
buzzing away, but once outside I couldn't 
hear it I assumed the noise of the working 
parties in the labour yards drowned the other 
sound. For several days this kept up the 
buzzing, torturing me in the cell, while out- 
side in the yards it didn't bother me. One 
evening on being marched back from labour 
to my cell, glancing up to the roof of the 
penal cells in the distance I noticed that a 
fresh telegraph wire had been run from the 
military barrack on the adjoining hill into the 
prison, and this wire was fastened right over 
my cell, in fact insulated at the ventilator 
opening that led from the cell I could have 
shouted with joy. That buzzing after all 
was not inside of me, but came down the 
ventilator shaft into my cell from this tele- 
graph wire on the roof. The cell looked less 
gloomy that evening when I got home to it. 

73 



X 

BILLY JACKSON 

EXPERIENCE taught us that while in our cells 
we never could be certain when the officer's 
eye was looking in at us through the " Judas 
hole." The shape and colouring of this 
inspection aperture, together with the glass 
on the spy hole, made it impossible to tell 
whether or not the officer's eye was at the 
hole. While patrolling the corridors the 
officers wore fustian shoes and moved about 
so stealthily that no sound betrayed him to 
the prisoner inside. This made it very 
difficult to write or read notes with safety. 
Not being able to rely on sight or hearing 
to safeguard ourselves from this danger, 
nature after a time came to the rescue and 
enabled us to cultivate the sense of smell to 
a degree that would astonish mortals living 
in the world of this twentieth century 
civilization. 

In the Penal Cells Building the tiers of 
cells occupied one side, and these opened on 
to corridors ; a plain wall with windows 
formed the other side of the building. 
These windows, for purposes of ventilation, 
were always left open ; as a consequence a 
current of air, carrying an " institution " 

74 



smell, swept around the corridors and was 
carried into the cells by means of a shaft, 
the opening of which was overhead in the 
doorway outside. A prison has a smell 
peculiar to institutions where crowds of 
humanity are herded together in a building. 
I have noticed similar smells in asylums, 
workhouses, etc. However, the smell of a 
convict prison has an unmistakable individu- 
ality. An officer might slip along to the 
cell door as noiselessly as he wished, but 
some foreign smell from him, such as hair- 
oil, tobacco, blacking from his accoutrements, 
beer, etc., would be wafted into the cell to 
give warning to the prisoner inside of danger 
that an officer was hovering around 
outside, probably w T atchirig in. For years I 
trusted to my sense of smell to detect the 
silent sleuth outside my door who was on 
the alert to discover infringements of the 
Prison Rules. Many a time it gave me 
timely warning. Never did it fail me. 

I have referred to the multitudinous notes 
that passed between my comrades and myself. 
We got our supply of black-lead pencils for 
years from John Daly. He worked in the 
carpenters' shop and was able to secure all 
we needed for our purpose ; but on one 
occasion a note of Egan's with a piece of 
black-lead pencil in it went astray and fell 
into the hands of the enemy. The Governor 
Pontius Pilate at once gave orders that 
Daly was not to be allowed any pencil at 

75 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

his work that a piece of chalk was to be 
supplied to him instead, and friend John for 
a long while had to do carpentry work as 
best he could without a pencil. We were 
then in sore straits for pencils to write notes 
to each other. At this time I was working 
as a moulder in the iron foundry, and I set 
myself at work to make some black-lead 
pencils. I had some black-lead of the kind 
used for cleaning stoves and grates, and there 
was any amount of fire clay and also blue 
clay in the foundry. I got a piece of fire 
clay and dissolved a lump of it in water, 
and after allowing it to stand for a couple of 
minutes poured off the water (which, of 
course, held minute particles of clay in 
suspension) into another vessel, which I left 
to stand till next day, when all the particles 
of clay had fallen to the bottom. Emptying 
off the water I gathered up the clay. I did 
exactly the same with the blue clay, and then 
mixed together the black-lead, fire clay and 
blue clay in such proportions as I thought 
would turn out when properly baked a good 
writing lead. I rolled the stuff out into long 
thin cylinders and brought them up to the 
drying room, where all cores for use in the 
foundry were baked. The prisoner in charge 
of this drying room (I'll call him here by a 
fictitious name), Billy Jackson, was very 
friendly to me as I had done him a few kind 
turns, and he always stood ready to oblige 
me at all times. I got Billy to carefully bake 

76 



BILLY JACKSON 

the pencils for me, and on getting them back 
found they wrote beautifully. But they had 
one very bad defect they would not resist 
moisture. For our purpose it was absolutely 
necessary they should possess this quality of 
resisting moisture, as our safest place to 
conceal the lead pencil if a sudden alarm 
came was to put it in the mouth. Assuming 
that the defect in my articles was due to 
their not being sufficiently baked, I again 
took them to Billy Jackson and asked him to 
pile up his fires and give the pencils all the 
heat he possibly could. Billy did as I asked, 
but it was all to no purpose, the pencils still 
would melt in the mouth. I tried again and 
again, altering the proportion of the black- 
lead and clays each time, but I couldn't 
manage it they could not resist the moisture. 
I finally came to the conclusion that the 
trouble lay in the direction of their not 
getting a sufficiency of heat, that they re- 
quired something more intense than Billy's 
drying room could furnish. At this time I 
was engaged at making solid cylinder castings 
that weighed about a ton each. In getting 
one of the moulds ready I inserted the 
pencils about an inch down below the surface 
of the bottom. When the mould was ready 
the ton of molten metal was poured into it, 
and, of course, the pencils an inch below 
the surface were subject to a terrific heat 
a heat so great that the sand of the mould 
would be still glowing red hot for several: 

77 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

inches all around the casting when it would 
be uncovered next morning. Upon digging 
out my pencils and testing them I found 
they were still failures they would still melt. 
The fault obviously lay in the ingredients, 
but, of course, I was restricted to the materials 
that were at my disposal. 

Failing in this, it occurred to me that the 
crucibles used in brass found ry work were 
made of graphite, so I told Billy Jackson my 
troubles, and asked him to try and get me a 
few pieces of old crucible the first time one 
got broken at the brass foundry beside the 
drying room. It was not long till Billy had 
a few pieces for me, but on testing them on 
a sheet of paper I found they wouldn't do, 
as the molten brass had penetrated the 
graphite when the crucible was in use, and 
this grit tore the flimsy paper when I tried 
to write. 

Again I told Billy my trouble, and 
explained that if I could only get a bit of 
new crucible I was certain it would make a 
good pencil. Billy struck a melodramatic 
attitude and asked, " Do you want a piece 
of new crucible ? " I said "Yes." " Then 
wait a second," and over he jigged to a dark 
corner singing 

" The Marquis of Lome 
Had a little one born,^ etc. 

He returned to the middle of the room 

78 



BILLY JACKSON 

carrying a very large new crucible between 
his hands, again striking an attitude and in 
best tragedy tones he apostrophised the 
ceiling, " Romans, countrymen and lovers, 
Wilson wants new crucible and the gods are 
kind and are going to give him the wish of 
his heart." Crash went the crucible on the 
floor smashed to smithereens. I mildly re- 
monstrated with him for doing this. He 
shook a reproachful finger at me as he 
reminded me it was only Government 
property. I took away a few pieces of the 
graphite. It served the purpose well, and 
the stock lasted until we struck luck again 
and were able to get real lead pencils. 

Billy Jackson was an unique character. 
There in that dark, almost air-tight room, 
heated to nearly suffocation point, Billy was 
most of the time as merry as a lark some- 
times perched on the top of a big cask, with 
his arms folded, he sang his songs or his 
hymns with great gusto. He rarely got 
into trouble with the authorities, though. 
In fact, I only remember him to have been 
" reported " once. I was standing in the 
delinquent line that same evening waiting to 
be brought before the chief warder on some 
charge or other. Billy's turn came before 
mine, and when the officer preferred the 
charge against him " whistling and making 
unnecessary noise in his cell" the chief 
warder asked Billy what he had to say to 
the charge. Billy answered that he was only 

79 



AN IRTSH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

whistling in a whisper and didn't think he 
could be heard outside the cell. Chief 
Warder " What were you whistling ? " 
Billy" * Jerusalem the Golden/ sir." Chief 
Warder to officer standing by " Is that 
right ? " Officer " No, sir ; he was whistling 
' The Girl I Left Behind Me.' ' " It won't 
do, Billy," said the chief warder, and Billy 
was sent on to the governor to get bread ancl 
water. 

,On one occasion I went up to the drying 
room to get some cores for the work I had 
in hand. Standing at the door, I signalled 
Billy. He told me to wait a bit, that he was 
busy. He was engaged at doing something 
at one of his fires. After waiting a few 
minutes, fearing the officer would get on 
to me for delaying, I shouted in to Billy 
to hurry up. He snappishly told me he 
couldn't as he was busy. He certainly seemed 
very intent upon whatever work he was doing. 
Finding the officer's eye off me I stepped in 
to the fire and found Billy with a piece of 
stick stirring something in an old swab can. 

To my surprise I saw that the contents of 
the can seemed to be a rich-looking soup, 
with vegetables and other things in it. In- 
quiring what the deuce he was up to, Billy 
told me he was making turtle soup. ' Wait 
a few minutes," said he, " and it will be 
ready and I'll give you some. 'Tis grand, I 
have made it several times before." " But," 
said. I, " where in thunder did you get the 



BILLY JACKSON 

stuff ? " Striking one of his characteristic 
attitudes he made answer in this fashion 
" 1464, there are more things in heaven or 
a prison hell than are dreamt of in your 
philosophy. Let me tell you I cleaned out 
my swab can, that's the saucepan, and I got 
water at the tap. When last over emptying 
ashes in the dust-pit, beside the cook-house, 
I sneaked some old cabbage leaves that were 
lying there. The screw's (officer's) eye was 
off me and I slipped them under my coat 
and brought them back. I got some Russian 
tallow from Hansford (the Instructor) I have 
to get some for my work but this was grand 
fresh stuff. I brought the bread crusts from 
the cell in my boots. It makes fine soup ; 
it is nearly done ; I'll give you some.'* 
Hungry as I was that concoction was too 
much for me, and I declined Billy's hospi- 
tality, but none the less I appreciated the 
generosity of that starving wretch's offer. 

The last time I had a talk with Billy he 
asked me if I knew how poteen was made in 
Ireland (Billy was a Cockney). I described 
the process as well as I could, and then asked 
him why he wanted to know. He told me 
he had been reading an article in one of the 
magazines dealing with the making of poteen 
and that he intended to make some. I 
inquired how he proposed to do it. He said 
he had just got in two empty molasses 
barrels from the stores to break up for 
firewood, but that he could get nearly a quart 

81 F 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

of molasses out of them ; that, of course, he 
had any amount of gas pipe for core iron 
purposes that he could utilise for a worm, 
and that he had running water at the tap in 
the corner. A few days later I was moved 
off to another party, and never heard whether 
or not Billy succeeded in making his Irish 
poteen. 



82 



XI 

i 
A MEDLEY 

WHEN telling of Billy Jackson smashing the 
big crucible, in order to provide me with a 
piece of graphite, and in an off-hand way 
closuring my remonstrance by telling me 
it was " only Government property," it 
reminded me of another occasion when I 
discovered I, too, was nothing more than 
" Government property." 

It was out on the corridor of the penal 
cells one day when a number of prisoners 
had been paired off to cut each other's hair 
at the regular weekly hair-cutting. A crazy 
character, who imagined himself at times to 
be an astronomer, was paired with me. I 
knew my mad matey very well, with his head 
away up in the air, and his tense-drawn face, 
with the fixed, lack-luster eyes that told its 
own tale of insanity. I sat myself down on 
the stool, and off over my head at consi- 
derable speed capered his scissors, making 
the hair fly. It wasn't long till he " struck 
a snag " by giving my ear a nasty cut and 
causing some blood to flow. I tried to bring 
him down from the stars to mother earth by 
quietly remonstrating. Immediately the 
officer at the other end of the line bawled 
out, " Wilson, vou are talking," and down he 

83 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

stalked beside me, and in a lofty, judicial 
tone, asked, " What are you talking to that 
prisoner for when you know the rules ? " I 
told him I was merely remonstrating against 
having my ear cut off, showing him at the 
same time my bleeding ear. " Oh, that's 
all very well," said he, " but you know the 
rules."' " Yes," said I, " but am I to sit 
quietly here and allow my ear to be taken 
off ? " He quoted the rule ' Under no 
circumstances must prisoners be allowed to 
speak to each other," and told me if he 
found me at it again he'd " run me in " for 
bread and water. Then addressing himself 
to my mate, who had continued the clipping 
as if nothing had happened " Look here, 
you will have to be more careful ; if I find 
you cutting that prisoner again I'll run you 
in also for damaging Government property." 
I have bitter memories of this hair-cutting 
process in the early years of our imprisonment. 
These were the years when scissors were 
used. Fancy about a couple of dozen pairs 
of scissors in use to barberize about fifteen 
hundred men, these scissors at work every 
week-day were blunted and most of them 
with the rivets loose ; a pair of scissors of 
that kind in the hands of a clumsy operator 
made it terrible torture for the victim who 
was being trimmed. It was a sight when 
sitting in the body of the church on Sunday 
morning to look along the lines of cropped 
heads and see the havoc that had been 



A MEDLEY 

wrought upon most of the unfortunate lags' 
skulls regular ridges of cuts in many cases, 
where the skin had been clipped away. In 
later years the scissors have been discarded 
and the hair clippers substituted, much to 
the satisfaction of every prisoner who has 
experienced the scissors clip. 

Almost all the officers employed in the 
English Convict Prison were ex-Army or ex- 
Navy men. These were of varying grades 
and classes governor, deputy governor, chief 
warders, principal warders, warders, and 
assistant warders, civil guards, parsons and 
priests, doctors and hospital nurses. The 
great bulk of these v/ere Englishmen and 
Welshmen with a sprinkling of Scottish and 
Irish. During my imprisonment I came in 
contact with many hundreds of these officers, 
and out of the whole lot I only experienced 
unmistakable sympathy and kindness from 
two. One of these was an Irishman and the 
other was English a Cockney. The Irishman 
was a nurse in the Infirmary who, whenever 
he had the chance, would throw in an extra 
piece of bread into one of the Irish political 
prison cells, and whenever possible would 
whisper some interesting item of the news of 
the day. I experienced kindness of both 
kinds from him several times. It was kindly 
for him to have sympathy. I knew his 
two brothers well both fine types of Irish 
nationalists, but our prison friend had been 
the wild boy of the family and ran away 

8 5 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

when young and joined the English navy. 
At the time we were experiencing his kindness 
he was a navy pensioner. 

The other the English officer was in 
contact with me for several years, and I 
received kindness often at his hands. When 
the coast would be clear at work he would 
sometimes nod for me to come over to him 
maybe it would be to tell me some news 
from the outside world something about 
Ireland sometimes to warn me to beware of 
this prisoner or that prisoner, and not let 
them see me doing anything, as they were 
of the type to " give me away." One day 
he gave me a great surprise. I was engaged 
at my work and he called my name. When 
I answered he ordered me to bring over my 
rule. I took over the two -foot rule with me 
and reached it to him. He took it, and in 
the course of the talk that, followed he kept 
shaking the rule at me as if he were taking 
me to task for something I had done. He 
first asked me if I knew anyone mixed up 
in public affairs in Ireland named Pigott. 
I asked was it Richard Pigott. He said yes, 
and I told him I knew him as editor of a 
paper in Dublin. " That's the fellow," said 
he ; ' he is a scoundrel, and is coming down 
to see Daly one of these days." He reached 
me back the rule, and in the rough, official 
tone he roared out, " Go back to your work 
and don't let me see you doing it again." 
This, of course, was said for the benefit of 

86 



A MEDLEY 

the other officer, who was stationed at the 
far end of the shop, as well as for the 
prisoners, to prevent suspicion. 

Next morning I managed to get behind 
John Daly when we were being turned out 
for chapel and whispered the warning I had 
got. Pigott came that same day to the 
prison and visited Daly. I had a very long 
note from John on the following Sunday 
telling me all about his interview with Dick 
Pigott, but that story, as well as John's 
interview with Mr. Soames (representing the 
London Times) will not be touched upon 
here, as John will likely deal with them when 
he comes to writing his " Recollections of 
Life in Chatham Convict Prison." 

It was not until years after, when we had 
been drafted from Chatham to Portland 
Prison, that I discovered, what had always 
been puzzling me, why the English officer 
singled me, the only Irish political prisoner 
in his shop, out from the forty other 
prisoners he had charge of to show me 
sympathy and kindness. He was married to 
an Irish wife. 

The visits of Pigott and Soames to Daly 
were prior to that of Inspector Littlechild to 
us in Chatham which I dealt with in an 
earlier article. Judging by Littlechild 's 
efforts it seemed to be very important for 
the purposes of the authorities that an 
informer should be secured in order to go 
before the TYV/ws-Parnell Commission with 

87 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

some story that \vould be damaging to the 
Irish side. But from what I know of the 
circumstances connected with the various 
English agents who were sent into the prison 
with the bribes, I feel certain that the 
authorities would rather have got hold of 
John Daly for their purpose than the whole 
lot of the rest of us. He was the important 
person. He was known far and wide among 
Irish Nationalists (Imperial Nationalists were 
unknown in these days) for his sacrifices and 
work in the National struggle, looked up to 
with admiration by the younger generation, 
and respected by all. The others of us of 
the younger school were mere rank and file 
workers, unknown, except to a very limited 
circle. For the purposes of those who were 
engineering the " trial " before the Commis- 
sion any of the rest of us would not have 
amounted to much compared with John Daly 
appearing. However, I am certain that any 
one of the lot could have easily made terms 
for himself and secured release at the price 
of appearing. But those men most of them 
under a life sentence spurned the offer, and 
preferred to remain behind the bars for the 
remainder of their days, for at this time none 
of us had much hope of ever leaving prison 
alive. 

I know the English sneer it is often made 
use of, indeed, by people calling themselves 
Irish " Put an Irishman on a spit and you'll 
find another Irishman to turn it," implying 



A MEDLEY 

that the Irishman, on the patriotic side, is 
more treacherous and with less of a sense of 
honour than are men of other countries. 
Besides knowing a fair share of the history 
of Ireland's struggle for nationhood, especially 
in the last two generations, I have had the 
privilege of an intimate acquaintance with 
many of the leading spirits of the Fenian 
movement, such as James Stephens, Chief 
Organiser ; John Devoy, Military Organiser, 
and the man who planned the Catalpa rescue, 
and took the military Fenian prisoners away 
from Australia out of the hand? of the 
English Government ; Col. R. O'S. Burke, 
who planned and successfully effected the 
Manchester rescue in 1867. The testimony 
of every one of them was directly to the 
contrary. Time after time the English 
Government offered huge rewards for the 
capture of well-known Fenians, and though 
in some cases there were thousands of 
Irishmen who could have betrayed them there 
were none who would. The whole thing is 
an English lie, started and kept up to dis- 
courage young Irishmen from organising to 
win the freedom of their country. 



XII 

THE SILENCE TORTURE 

FROM time to time in the course of these 
articles I have had occasion to refer to that 
terrible " silent system " which prevailed in 
the English convict prisons ; these references 
were more or less casual. 

A further word of detailed explanation 
concerning this system and its effects upon 
the prisoner, where the imprisonment is for 
a long term of years, may prove interesting. 

The system, as it was applied in Chatham 
and Portland Prisons, might be said to 
depend upon the rigid enforcement of one 
of the prison rules, which read " Under no 
circumstances must prisoners be allowed to 
speak to each other," to which should have 
been added, " or converse with anyone else," 
and we would then have the essence of the 
silent system. For be it remembered that 
not only must the prisoner hold no inter- 
course with his fellow-convicts, but it would 
be a punishable offence to attempt to talk 
to any of the prison warders, the discipline 
being such that the prisoner attempting to 
engage a warder in conversation would be 
almost certain to be hailed up under report 
and punished. As a matter of fact, should 
the warder fail to report the prisoner for 
such a violation of prison discipline, and one 

90 



THE SILENCE TORTURE 

of the numerous supervising officials come to 
know of it, that warder himself would be 
reported and punished. So strictly enforced 
is this rule in its application to the attitude 
of the prisoner to the warder that before a 
prisoner can speak to an officer, even about 
the ordinary work at which he would be 
employed, he must hold up his hand to first 
get permission to open his mouth. Should 
he feel ill and wish to make application to 
see a doctor he must hold up his hand and 
get permission to make the report. Should 
he want to go to the closet, again his hand 
has to go up to get permission to ask, and, 
of course, permission to go ; and so on all 
through the day the mouth, as it were, 
locked all the time and only opened by 
official permission. 

Then, as far as the warder's attitude 
towards the prisoner is concerned, he must 
speak to him in terms of command, never 
in conversational style. For instance, if I 
were in my cell and required to be brought 
before the Governor for any purpose, the 
officer, after unlocking my gate and cell door, 
wouldn't notify me in any such fashion as 
" Come along, Wilson, the Governor wants 
to see you." No. Instead he would bawl 
out, " Wilson, attention ! " " Quick march." 
Then as soon as I'd get outside the door he 
would order, " Right turn " or " Left turn," 
as the occasion required, and off I would 
march until such time as the Governor's 

91 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

room door was reached. He would then 
give the order to " Mark time," and I would 
have to keep at that until the door was 
opened and the word given to " Forward." 
Into the room I'd go marching, and when far 
enough would be stopped by the command, 
" Halt." When the Governor would have 
finished with me they would bring me back 
after the same manner, marching and 
counter-marching, marking time and all the 
rest of it, with as much fuss and noise of 
military command as if I were a whole 
regiment of soldiers. 

My purpose in dealing with the silent 
system now is to show that no matter who 
the man may be educated or illiterate no 
matter how hopeful his disposition or physi- 
cally fit he be no matter what strength of 
will power he may possess or what determi- 
nation of character may be his to " see things 
through " in man's fashion, it will avail him 
nothing he will inevitably be driven insane 
if only kept long enough under that silent 
system. It will gradually wear him down 
and shatter his nervous system and destroy 
the normal tranquillity of his mind to such 
an extent that a point will be reached when 
the mind becomes thoroughly exhausted and 
left in a state of frenzied unsettlement, having 
nothing to feed upon except such gloomy 
thoughts as will be dictated to him, by, his 
wretched environment. The end insanity- 
for that poor mortal is then near at hand, 

92 



THE SILENCE TORTURE 

That end comes sooner for some than 
for others, temperament being an important 
factor ; but speaking generally all things else 
being equal an educated man will be better 
able to hold out against the system than an 
illiterate man. In other words, the person 
who goes into prison with a mind well 
stocked with healthy ideas will take longer to 
break down than the person ill-educated, or 
who carries in with him comparatively few 
ideas. While the man with a well-stored 
mind stands a better chance when " up 
against " the silent system, yet no matter 
how well he may be equipped in this respect 
the system will win against him in the end. 

In the early years of the imprisonment he 
may be safe enough whilst his memory fur- 
nishes him with subject after subject to give 
the mind pleasurable occupation as he turns 
them over. In this way thoughts and ideas 
one after the other are turned over and 
examined until finally the whole stock has 
been under review. Commencing again, idea 
after idea is examined afresh, but with far 
less interest than the first time, if no new 
view-point can be found when dealing with 
a particular idea. On and on this goes until 
the end of the stock is reached again. 
Starting again, it is found that some of the 
ideas and memories have no further interest ; 
the mind is sick of them ; they have been 
turned over so much that they are too stale 
to arouse any further interest. Such as 

93 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

remain and still retain interest are once more 
reviewed and turned over. Finally there 
comes a time when by this process of elimi- 
nation there remains not a single idea of the 
original stock that has not been quite " played 
out " and has now become hateful. The 
silent system then wins, for the mind, though 
more or less enfeebled by this time, must 
occupy itself with something, and the dreary 
wretchedness and misery of the convict prison 
that have been kept at arm's length during 
the struggle now get their innings, while the 
spectre of insanity hovers close by waiting to 
take charge and complete the work of the 
silent system. 

What I have described may be considered 
the negative factors that go towards producing 
insanity. The positive factors are the in- 
cessant harassing, the starvation punishment, 
and other punishments. 

When tracing the effects of the silent 
system I took no notice of the library books 
supplied to prisoners. They certainly counted 
for something in giving occupation to the 
mind, and a good book counted for much in 
this direction. But the good book was a 
rarity, while many of the books supplied to 
me were a downright irritation trashy books 
of fiction, stories of servant girls in love, 
stories of adventure for boys, stories for 
babies of the " Ba, Ba, Black Sheep, have 
you any wool ? " kind, and so on, were the 
class of books they generally threw into our 
cells. Very few of them contained anything 

94 



THE SILENCE TORTURE 

to supply healthy ideas that would be cal- 
culated to give occupation to a jaded mind. 
It has been told in the course of these 
articles how some of the Irish political 
prisoners, recognising that the specially 
devised brutal treatment of us, together with 
this silent system, must either kill us off or 
lead to insanity, decided, after comparing 
notes with each other, to set ourselves at 
work to devise ways and means of counter- 
acting the effects of such treatment and thus 
try and save our reason. Still, in spite of 
all these efforts on our part, as far as I am 
personally concerned, the increasing tension 
on my nerves for some time previous to my 
release was such that I felt certain, and still 
feel certain, that another couple of years of 
such treatment and I, too, like so many of 
my fellow-prisoners, would have been driven 
mad. But it was not to be. Instead, here 
I am, with prison life a mere memory many 
years old, jotting down some fragments of 
the history of that experience. As I write 
the season reminds me of many Christmas 
times spent in prison and out of prison with 
loyal old comrades. James Egan and John 
Daly they are in my thoughts. Egan has 
gone from us, and lies in Glasnevin. Sturdy 
Jim loyal to Ireland and ever true to his 
principles. And Daly our own Daly: 
maybe we'll spend this Christmas as we 
spent last, and as we clasp hands pledge 
" Our land alone and friends who owe 
allegiance to her alone." 

95 



XIII 

MINOR MEMORIES 

IN jotting down these recollections I have 
taken hold of the facts at random, without 
any attempt to line them up in order of time. 
In commencing the story my intention was 
to select such incidents of prison experience 
as would be likely to interest readers of 
Irish Freedom, especially those of the younger 

feneration. Proceeding to carry out this idea 
was surprised to find that when dealing 
with some of the more vivid memories of 
those times there was brought back to my 
mind a number of minor memories that had 
lain sleeping for many a day some of them, 
indeed, had been forgotten for years. I 
remark on this here as it has a bearing upon 
some of the incidents that will follow. 

A day or two after having been sentenced 
the Governor, Chief Warder, and several 
other officers came to my cell in Milbank 
Prison. The Governor, as spokesman, ex- 
plained the separation of convicts into two 
classes one the Habitual Criminal Class, and 
the other composed of prisoners who had 
never been convicted previously. 

In explaining the composition of the 
Habitual Criminal Class, he described them 
as a bad lot bad in almost every respect 

96 



MINOR MEMORIES 

and not at all the class of individuals that 
I would wish to associate with for the 
remainder of my life. I know now his de- 
scription of that class was not far out. I had 
previously informed him that I had never 
been convicted before. He referred to this, 
and told me it was necessary that the 
authorities should get a guarantee from two 
reputable citizens vouching for me in this 
respect before they could place me amongst 
the first offenders in the " Star Class." He 
inquired would I give him the names and 
addresses of two such citizens. I had no 
objection, and gave him the names and 
address of two of my friends in America. 
He wouldn't take them said it was necessary 
to have the names of persons resident in 
England, Ireland, or Scotland. Did I have 
any friends on this side who could answer 
for me ? I told him I had, but would not 
give him any such names. " That being the 
case," he said, " you will be classed as an 
Habitual Criminal and associate with convicts 
of that grade." I told him I did not like 
the prospect of that, and could not see why 
an assurance from people of standing in 
America, who had known me all my life, 
should not satisfy all requirements necessary 
to prevent my being obliged to associate 
only with the Habitual Criminal Class, more 
particularly because of the reasons I had for 
refusing to give the names of any of my 
friends on this side. As a matter of fact, 
97 G 



AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

there was in the back of my mind a strong 
suspicion that the whole thing centred round 
the question of the authorities trying to find 
out what connection there might be between 
America and Ireland, as far as our case was 
concerned, with a view of locating our friends 
in Ireland. It must be remembered that I 
was convicted under an assumed name, and 
up to the time of my conviction, and for 
long after, the authorities knew absolutely 
nothing about me nothing beyond the fact 
that I had turned up in London and had 
been in Birmingham after having left a first 
trace in Liverpool. So I told the Governor 
I would give him no names on this side to 
assist the authorities to connect me with any 
person here. I would not be a party to 
having my friends persecuted by the attention 
of Scotland Yard. That, in the excited state 
the Government and English people were in 
owing to the arrest and trial of the Irish 
skirmishers it was absolutely certain that 
anyone known to be a friend of mine would 
be in for a disagreeable time of it because 
of the attention he would receive from the 
Government detectives. The interview ended 
by his giving me to understand there was 
nothing for it but to place me in the Habitual 
Criminal Class. Some time elapsed, and I 
found all my colleagues had been put in the 
First Offenders Class and were wearing the 
badge of that class the Red Star while I 
was isolated and wearing the ordinary convict 



MINOR MEMORIES 

dress. After a time, however, the Star was 
given to me and I was placed in the First 
Offenders division, and that, although no 
friend or acquaintance of mine had vouched 
for me. 

Failing to get any information from me 
about my friends in " England, Ireland, or 
Scotland," on the friendly (?) pretence of not 
having me sent to associate with the Habitual 
Criminals, another attempt was made later on 
to ascertain my friends. The Governor had 
me brought before him, and a list of things 
that were taken from me by the authorities 
after my arrest was read out to me. The 
Governor explained that being a convict I 
had no rights and could hold no property of 
any kind, the authorities would send this 
property (money, watch and chain, etc.), to 
any friend I wished, and he wanted to know 
who he was to send it to. I gave him the 
name and address of a friend of mine in 
New York John J. Morrison, an old Dublin 
man, who had been an Orangeman early in 
life, but who on getting away to America 
away from his former environment became 
a splendid type of active Irish Nationalist 
as reliable and sincere as one would wish to 
meet. He is now dead, but John Morrison's 
name is still held in esteem by those of his 
old Nationalist colleagues who are still alive. 
The Governor informed me he could not 
send property to America, but would send 
it to anyone I would name in England or 

99 



A'NjIRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

Ireland. I refused to give any such name 
and was taken back to my cell. 

On another occasion later on the Governor 
had me before him again and asked me had 
I any sisters. I told him I had. He asked 
their names ; I refused to tell him. He 
wished to know why I refused, and I declined 
to give him any reasons. " Well," said he, 
" an application to visit you has been received 
from Maria ]. Wilson, of New York, who 
says she is a sister." I told him that was 
all right, she was a sister of mine, and I 
wished to see her. A few days later the 
Governor sent for me again to ask me w r ould 
he turn over my watch and chain and other 
trinkets to my sister when she visited the 
prison. I told him by all means to do so, 
and also to let her have that money of mine 
which the authorities held. He said he 
couldn't do that, as the money had been 
turned into the British Exchequer and was 
now irrecoverable. When rny sister came to 
the prison the authorities gave her everything 
that had belonged to me except the money, 
and the matter rested at that for years when, 
on my release, it cropped up again, but that 
will be dealt with later on. 

In the long interval that elapsed between 
badgering me to get on the track of local 
friends, and the time when I was released 
a matter of may years time dragged along 
slowly through an atmosphere clouded with 
miser} 7 weeks dragged along into months, 

100 



MINOR MEMORIES 

year piled on year, and meanwhile the 
Treason Felony Prisoners had been dying off 
one by one, or had been released after most 
of them had been driven insane. In the 
early years there had been over twenty of us 
in Chatham Prison, and I was one of the 
first of them convicted. In the latter days 
there were only two of us in Portland, Henry 
Burton and myself. He was ill and had 
been taken into the infirmary, and I was 
then the sole occupant of the Treason Felony 
section of the Penal Cells I was then up 
against the dreariest spell of the entire 
imprisonment. 

It was then " strict silence " to the very 
letter all the more keenly felt because of 
the contrast between then and the previous 
years, when staunch comrades were giving 
aid and comfort to me. John Daly had been 
released months before, and James Egan had 
been gone for some years. But the usual 
routine of prison life went on in the same 
monotonous fashion ; the warders unlocking 
gate and door and roaring out words of 
command in the usual aggressive fashion ; 
the escort marching me off and reporting to 
each superior officer he passed what his 
;< party " consisted of. " One man, sir," 
until he turned me over to other warders to 
be searched and put to work, and after work 
to be searched again, after which to be 
turned over to other warders to be marched 
back to my cells for meals or -for bed, and 

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AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

all this carried on without a detail of prison 
ceremonial omitted. As the time went on, 
month after month of it, I felt that my 
imprisonment was something like the sailor's 
rope that had no end to it. 

Of the three comrades who stood in the 
dock with me and received the same sentence, 
Dr. Gallagher and Whitehead had been 
released years before, hopelessly insane, while 
Curtin had been released long before them 
suffering from a ruptured vesicle of the heart. 
Even yet I can't quite understand why the 
ll reserved service " in my case. But this I 
do know, that no word or act of mine during 
that imprisonment has ever caused me any 
regret. I was then what I had been, and 
what I am still, an Irish Nationalist. I asked 
no favours, I got none, and I am proud of it. 

During that dreary spell in the Penal Cells, 
when I was " bird alone " in the Treason 
Felony section, there was one other prisoner 
kept there permanently in the same building 
whose case caused quite a sensation when he 
was convicted. His name was Lee, and he 
was " Cleaner " in the Cells Building. Lee 
had been sentenced to death, but after the 
failure of several attempts to hang him he 
was reprieved and sentenced to penal servi- 
tude for life. The warders used to bring me 
out to clip Lee's hair, and he had to clip 
mine. On one of these occasions, while the 
warders were engaged together doing some- 
thing or other, and with their eyes off us, 

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MINOR MEMORIES 

Lee got an opportunity to tell me the story 
of these several attempts to hang him. He 
described the escort on the morning of the 
execution, coming into the death cell with 
the chaplain, the pinioning of his arms 
behind his back, the arranging of the bag-like 
covering over his head, and the procession 
starting out from the cell to the scaffold, the 
chaplain all the while reciting aloud some 
prayers (the burial service, I think, he said). 
He graphically told of the frenzied feeling of 
fear that took possession of him as he got 
up on the platform of the scaffold and was 
placed standing upon the trap whilst the 
warders and executioner tied his legs and 
adjusted the rope around his neck. From 
the time he got on the scaffold he appeared 
to be dazed, and an awful stillness seemed 
to surround him ; the sounds around him as 
he stood there with his head covered seemed 
to be at a distance, but through it all the 
beating of his heart seemed to thunder in his 
ears. In fact, it seemed as if his heart had 
moved up to his ears. This was the state 
he was in when he heard a muffled voice in 
the distance say " Ready," and almost simul- 
taneously he heard with terrible distinctness 
a bolt pulled back. He became collected 
immediately, and expecting the trap to give 
way it didn't after a second or two he 
heard someone say, " My God," and then 
could hear some whispering around him. 
Then he heard someone near him banging at 

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AN IRISH FELON'S PRISON LIFE 

the trap as if to drive it down ; some others 
got around the trap and tried all together to 
send it down by stamping on it, but all to 
no purpose, the trap wouldn't move. His 
legs were then untied, and he was taken back 
to the death cell and the hood removed from 
his head. He sat there for some time and 
could hear the hammering that was going on 
at the scaffold as they were putting things 
right. At length the escort came for him 
again, and off they started exactly as on the 
previous occasion slow march, chaplain re- 
citing the prayers on to the scaffold, legs 
tied, noose adjusted around his neck. On 
this occasion he seemed to take it all as a 
matter of course up to the point when he 
heard the word " Ready " given and the bolt 
snapped. His heart seemed to stand still, 
but again the trap refused to go down. He 
heard them dancing on it again, and they got 
a hammer and banged on it. No good. Off 
they took him again to the death cell. The 
chaplain intervened and begged the Governor 
to postpone any further attempts until the 
facts were communicated to the Home 
Secretary. The Governor consented, with 
the result that the Home Secretary reprieved 
Lee and sent him to penal servitude for life. 
He was released from Portland several years 
ago.